Thursday, June 30, 2011

Creating jobs outside the USA

A friend read and had good points.   He pointed out to me that while transportation and regulation may make more jobs, the new jobs are often outside the USA. 

Worse, those foreign jobs cost American jobs.  This is a valid point for some industries.    This is why China has a huge industrial boom - and a huge pollution problem.

It's not true for electricity.   One of the major issues with electricity is that it does not travel well.   It needs to be produced near where it is used.  The major polluters in the US are coal burning power plants.  Regulating them will not drive their business out of the USA.

Nor is it true for regulations that require add-on products such as helmet laws for motorcycles, seat-belts for cars, earthquake protections for housing, insurance for mortgages, etc. 

The job loss from regulations only occurs to regulations that affect the manufacturing techniques of physical products.   At heart, those are all safety requirements designed to prevent loss of human life either from accidents or from pollution.

This is one of the major costs of a free market.  If you like a free market, then you LIKE the fact that other countries take the crappy, polluting industries that Americans don't want.  There is a reason why we find lead in Chinese toys and nasty stuff in their toothpaste.     We don't have to put up with that junk in America, and the loss of a few jobs is not a big worry.  In fact, China itself is experiencing wage inflation of 12% for manufacturing jobs Source.   There is no free lunch, and China, while large, has begun to run out of cheap labor.  

There is one more set of regulations - anti-discrimination and harassment rules.  These don't raise costs  - unless you break the rules.  No one shifts their business to China because they were required to hire black women.

Transportation and regulation make for better products, at a cheaper price, which save Americans more money than it costs in jobs.  Allowing people to spew poisons into the air, water and ground is not good business sense.   Worse, jobs where people die because the management doesn't care about risk are not needed.   We don't need to create a whole bunch of crappy jobs where people are exposed to cancer causing toxins.  We need GOOD jobs, not bad ones.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What 2008 (and 2010) Electoral results can tell us about 2012.

Analysis of the 2008 elections can tell us a lot about the coming 2012 election.  In 2008 Obama won 365 electoral votes, vs 173 for McCain.  That is a blow out.  If the electoral changes from the 2010 Census were applied in 2008, Obama would have only 359, vs McCain 179.  That still leaves 91 votes that the GOP has to steal from Obama.  

First, the states to watch are rather easy to see:

North Carolina

They all had small margins (under 7%) - whether for McCain or Obama.  All except Montana are relatively large states with 11 or more electoral votes.  Their total electoral votes were 115 (while the 2010 census moved some votes around, these states still total 115).   However, even if the GOP wins all of them, if the other states remain static, Obama still wins.   It's not enough for the GOP to pick off the easy targets, they have to also do the harder ones.

For McCain to have won the election, he would have needed to win all of those states, PLUS another 4
electoral votes (given the census changes).  The next easiest states for the GOP to take are Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire, all of which had a margin of 9% for Obama.  Nine percent is a big wall to climb.  Some people think  Minnesota (10% margin) and Pennsylvania (11% margin) and even Nevada (12% margin) are also in play. But keep in mind that McCain only won Texas by 12%.   No one seriously thinks Texas is going Democrat again - despite the larger Hispanic and urban growths in Texas that tend to vote Democrat.   Pennsylvania has voted democratic in the last 5 presidential elections.  I think Minnesota, and Nevada are becoming Democratic strong holds.  Minnesota is part of the expanding North East/Great Lakes Democratic stronghold and Nevada has a growing Hispanic population.

Worse, the GOP is going to have to fight to keep Missouri, Montana, and even Georgia. Georgia is over 30% black, which makes for a big base, and gained an electoral college -in part because the black population increased more than the white population (2000 census said 28.7% 2010 said 30.5%).  In fact, even Arizona may be a tough state for the GOP to keep - McCain won it with only a 9% margin and it was his home state.

Note, this does not take the 2010 mid term elections into account.  All those states I said they needed to win for the presidential election?  The GOP pretty much won them in the 2010 midterms.  But that is fairly typical - the losing party in the presidential  election tends to recover in the midterms, but they also generally lose it all back in the next presidential election.  Also, see my previous post - the 2010 midterms did not have Obama running for election.  It was the ultimate 'early poll' running an unnamed candidate against Obama.  That meant all the angry conservatives showed up to vote, while the happy democrats staid home (to their later disappointment).  Anyone looking at Wisconsin knows that not all the GOP gains in 2010 are going to translate into wins in 2012.  There are even recall elections in some cases.  The 2008 election was a named candidate vs Obama, which makes it more accurate than un-named vs Obama.

Part of the problem for the GOP is that Obama took most of the larger electoral states.  McCain won just as many small states and 2 more medium states, but Obama won 13 out of 17 Large states, while McCain only won 4.  Larger states may have smaller margins, but those margins represent more people, and more people = more money spent on electioneering.

Also note that in the states Obama won, he averaged a 19.1% margin, where as McCain only had a 16.% margin.   Part of this may just be that McCain was not conservative enough for the conservative voters.   But the fact that he lost the general election meant he was not liberal enough for the moderates.  The more he shored up his base, the more he lost the independents, and vice-versa.  Whoever goes up against Obama will probably have the same problem.

Obama on the other hand has a rock solid hold on the liberal base, because of race and the constant GOP harping on "socialism".   Despite Republican pipe-dreams, they can not attract the black vote.  Worse, every time the GOP makes ridiculous, propaganda statements about socialism, they increase their base support, but lose independents while Obama also increases his base support.   So Obama has the luxury of focusing his appeal on the independents and let Republican fear-mongering maintain Obama's own base.  He can sound reasonable, while letting the GOP sound extremist.  Note this is extremely important in a national election, but not as important for the state and local elections from the midterms.  The nation has a real center, while states are often fairly partisan.  Things you say in one state anger people in other states.   It is easier to win a state election because they tend to be more uniform in their ideology.   That is why the Democrats are unlikely to win Idaho, and the GOP won't win Hawaii.   The country as a whole however has a wider range.

Of course it also helps that Obama, unlike the current crop of GOP candidates actually IS a moderate that appeals to independents.

The GOP has a lot of work cut out for them.    I don't think they can do it - not unless Obama makes some serious mistakes.  Even if the economy gets seriously worse, it is hard to convince voters that the GOP can fix the problem they so clearly are being blamed for (Hint, Reagan paid for his tax cuts with lowered defense spending.  If you want to start a war, you can't also cut taxes.)  Independents don't blame

Here are the 2008 election results I used for my analysis.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why early polls don't matter

Recently there was a poll of Obama against and unnamed Republican.  It did not surprise me that the un-named republican won, nor does it worry me. I am almost certain that Obama will not only win, but easily win.  I will go gurther and state that much of the reason why the current GOP candidates are unimpressive is that the impressive people know this (Rubio for example) and are waiting till they can run against Biden (or whoever the Dems pick after Obama).

Early polls, particularly "unnamed vs incumbent" rarely matter.  There are a lot of reasons why, and I am going to go through them.

First, lets talk about the Unnamed vs named bit.   As evidence, I quote South Park, "Every election is between a Giant Douche and a Turd".  Half the reason people vote is not because they like the Turd, but because they can't stand the Douche.  In effect, when you do an un-named GOP vs incumbent, the incumbent only gets all the people that love him, while the un-named gets all the people that hate the incumbent PLUS all the people that think they like the general politics of the GOP.  Imagine that Herman Cain wins the GOP primary.   If only 2% of americans are racist enough not to vote for a black man, than that 2% moves away from Un-Named to "won't vote".   I am in fact willing to bet that 2% is more like 5%, considering the prevalence of the birther movement.  All candidates have similar issues, for example Gingrich may lose family values voters,  the two Mormons may lose religious voters, there are still people that won't vote for a women, etc. etc.  One of the reasons McCain lost is that some GOP stalwarts did not like him enough to get out the vote, but neither did the independents favor him over Obama. 

To win an election, you need to appeal to both your party's base and the independents, not an easy task for a real person to do.  Un-named does it automatically, but named candidates find this difficult.  One of Obama's strengths was doing this well, and I suspect he will do it again in 2012.

Now for the "early" part.   Another factor is that election spending actually WORKS.  It is estimated that Obama alone will raise more than $1 billion dollars, and that the 2012 election will have candidates spending $7 Billion. They are not spending it because they are stupid.   You need to tell people what you stand for and what you want to do.  

Obama hasn't spent much of his money, but his opponents have already started spending and campaigning.  For example, the press made much of the fact that most of the second GOP debate was spent on attacking Obama, not each other. 

So it is no surprise that after the GOP attacks and before Obama has started the fight, the GOP looks like it is ahead?   The GOP has been spending the past 2 years badmouthing Obama, while Obama has said almost nothing bad about the GOP.  That changes when the GOP picks a candidate.

Next lets talk about how voting patterns change.  Early polls tend to be about name recognition as much as anything else.  That is why Trump did so well before he announced he wasn't running.  It is not that people actually liked him, but instead it was that they knew who he was.     As an election continues, people start recognizing the names of both candidates and that no longer matters as much.  Instead people start focusing on issues.  So on early polls, the greater name recognition tends to lead, but not so much for later polls.   This explains why celebrities are likelier to win special elections - the electioneering period is shorter, so name recognition counts more (say hello to the Governator before we say goodbye to him.)   But in Unnamed Republican Vs Obama, well the Republican name is in fact more famous than Obama.   Ten years ago, people did not know who Obama is, but they knew what a Republican was.   Republican has a higher name recognition factor than Obama - but Obama will almost certainly have a higher name recognition than whoever the GOP actually picks.

Another point is that the popular vote is not how we elect the president.  We do it through the electoral system, which is how Bush became president despite the fact that Gore won the popular vote.   It is not enough to win the voters, you have to win the electorates.   The GOP has turned a rather nice, agreeable man (who likes to settle problems with a beer)  into a rallying call for partisanship.   As such, the people that hate and despise him may be gathered into certain states.  Their voting power may be diluted.  We don't know.
 As such it is quite possible that Obama pulls a page from George W Bush's play book and wins the electoral vote despite losing the popular vote.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The War Powers Act and Libya.

To quote Wikipedia "The War Powers Act requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war." 

The president notified Congress of his actions.  The law was originally passed because Congress was upset with Nixon for bombing Cambodia in secret.   Nixon vetoed the law, but the veto was over-ridden.  Obama notified Congress publicly on TV when he notified the rest of us.  He did not engage in a secret war. Congress then mulled around and delayed past the 60 days, then another 30 days.  Article about Congress discussing a resolution  They refused to do the vote. Obama continued to bomb Libya, even without the authorization.

Legally the president is in violation of The War Powers Act. The act states that congress has the authority to order the Presdient to remove troops.  Congress has not done so.

Ethically, Congress should have their head handed to them for putting partisan politics above national interests.  

The president has tried to get around this situation by declaring the Libya actions non-hostile.  Bullcrap.  Bombing someone is a hostile act.  The only thing worse than using such a weasally way to avoid admitting you have broken the law would have been for Congress to act like such freaking baby and not do the vote.

The president has broken the law in order to protect the United States interests.

Congress, and Republicans in particular, has abandoned their duty to protect the US, instead focusing on internal politics.  They would rather a madman continue to rule Libya, a terrorist supporting state, and kill his own people as long as it would hurt the Democrat's chance of being re-elected. 

The partisan, Republican first, and only American second, Boehner said ""If the Commander-in-Chief believes that intervention in Libya is important for our national security, he has a responsibility to make a case for it -- clearly and publicly -- and seek authorization."

What bullshit.  The President, not Commander-in-Chief" did seek authorization and did make his case.  He did so on TV.

It is not the President's job to vote, it is Congress job to vote.  They have refused to act.  Boehner is trying to blame the President for Boehner's own malicious acts

It's one thing to vote against something.  Another to block a vote because you know you can't win but have enough votes to filibuster or otherwise prevent a vote.  That's OK too.   But that's not what is going on.  They are pussyfooting around not because they want the US out of Libya, but because they want to use it as a partisan weapon in the next election, and are afraid it will be used against them.

I can understand Boehner's dilemma.   He can't win no matter which way the vote goes.  He is afraid of his own people.  He is afraid traditional Republicans are upset because the GOP opposed a cheap, minimal boots-on-the-ground war.  He is also afraid that Tea Party Republicans,  are upset because the GOP authorized yet more money to be spent on overseas wars.    Worse, he doesn't want his opponent to look strong on foreign policy.

But that is no excuse for refusing to do your job and protect America's interests overseas.

P.S.  There is some question about whether the Act is constitutional.  The Constitution of the USA does not let Congress do whatever it wants.  Affecting the powers of other branches (Executive or Supreme Court) are a gray area.  No President has recognized the War Powers Act as constitutional, other presidents have used rather flimsy excuses to claim they complied, and several scholars have recommended that the law be changed  - James Baker (R) and Warren Christopher (D),  - ( Source = NYTIMES ).

P.P.S.  As illegal presidential acts, this one looks kind of boring.  Among other things, Congress doesn't even have the guts to try and censure him for it - in part because if they tried and failed it could make his actions legal as it not censuring could be described as 'approving' the military actions.   Far better than the last president's illegal hiring, promoting and firing DOJ lawyers based on partisan politics (they admitted they did this, admitted it was illegal, and then refused to prosecute the criminals in charge, or do anything to fix the situation).  Worse, the DOJ used bad legal opinions to allow (among others) torture - perhaps legal opinions given by people selected for illegal reasons.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sarah Palin's Emails

First and foremost let me say that I did not (and do not) expect there to be anything shocking in the Palin emails.  I expect the media to waste a ton of money, time, and attention on them.

It is a horrible state of affairs and the blame should be squarely pasted on those responsible:

Sarah Palin and the State of Alaska.

Yes, they are the ones to blame.  Basically, they did the equivalent of tattooing a live pig with a check and delivering it to the court to pay their fine.  Then they get upset when people pay attention to what they did.  They acted like spoiled children and deserve all the crap they are getting.  People have said if Obama got this attention, he never would have been elected.  I don't believe this (in large part because he DID get that kind of attention - anyone remember a birth certificate and pastor), but that is not the point. The point is he would not have acted as poorly as Palin or the State of Alaska did.

How can I say that?  Well I happen to work for a major law firm and my job is to deal with electronic discovery.   I can tell you that the average email is 1.5 pages long, and about a gigabyte of email files has about 100,000 pages (excluding attachments).  This is much smaller than the average Excel file that takes up 50 pages when printed, but the excel is less dense - one gigabyte of Excel has closer to 166,000 pages.  A mere 4,000 pages of should be about 250,000 MB.  Less if they zipped it up (not recommended - that makes my job harder).  It would fit on a single CD, not even DVD. 

In a typical lawsuit, we get many DVDs.  It is not that unsual for us to get a hard drive with 250 or more Gig of data on it.  A certain high profile Ponzi scheme I worked on involved over 1 million pages, not 24,000.   The judge gives a time limit of months not YEARS (State of Alaska) to get it.    Of course, most businesses would fire someone that choose to use outside emails (Palin) for business purposes.  Especially since she admitted she did it mainly to make it harder to get her emails. Anyone so unethical as to try and get around disclosure laws should not be in a position of power.

So how do companies comply with a month when Alaska found it hard to comply in two years?  The company hires people to do it.  Outside firms volunteered to do this for free for the state of Alaska, but they refused.  They were wired about confidential information that they had the legal right to with-hold getting out.  It's not like businesses are worried about confidential information getting out.  WHOOPS, they are.  In fact, they even have a term "Clawback"  for when someone mistakenly releases confidential information that they want back.  Yes, lawfirms do in fact return that information.   All of that happens within a couple of months.

There are many reasons why corporations use Electronic Discovery vendors to supply the documents.  It allows us to generate a bunch of metadata and do searches for things like dates and to look for BCC as well as CC and TO.   It lets us weed out duplicates (as in when I send an email to 20 people, their are 20 copies of the same email floating around, and we don't need 20, we just need one).  The vendor can TIFF (print to tiff files instead of to paper) the files, which allows you to prevent any hidden data from showing up.  There are good and legal reasons to do this - when you read the emails to make sure they did not contain stuff that was attorney/client privileged you likely just checked the final version, not an earlier draft that might be hidden, but recoverable.

What I am trying to say is that the State of Alaska definitely had reasons for screwing over the papers and t public, but not GOOD reasons.   The existing Electronic Discovery business already has solutions for ALL of the issues that the State of Alaska claimed were "insurmountable".  They just refused to pay a vendor to do it in a month, insisting on doing it themselves over 2 years.   I can also tell you that just paying people to do it for two years almost certainly GUARANTEED that the state spent more money than if they had hired a vendor for two months.

They even could have paid two sets of lawyers to double check and make sure they were not sending out stuff they did not have to, all in 4 months.  All cheaper than what they did.

As a result of Sarah Palins' direct attempt to circumvent the law, and the state's refusal to use outside help, instead of burning a single DVD and sending it via Fed Ex, they printed out 24,000 pieces of paper and made the newspapers and public come to Alaska and pick it up.

So yeah, someone made a big deal out of nothing.  But it wasn't the media.  It was a bunch of Alaskans that tried to thumb their nose at the law.  They deserve all of the negative attention - not because of what was in the emails but because of their childish attempts to avoid their legal requirements.  If a cop pulls you over and you throw a bag of oregano out the window, don't be surprised if he handcuffs you while he spends 30 minutes searching for the bag.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why it is so hard for Conservatives to eliminate Social Security

The conservatives like to say that liberal laws are addictive.  That once we get a taste of it, it is very hard to remove it.   But instead of admitting that Americans LIKE the liberal programs, they instead pretend it they are 'addicted' to them.  They claim they have to keep Americans from enacting 'evil liberal programs', because once they are in, it is almost impossible to remove them. 

Keeping Grandma out of the poor house is not a 'sweet'.  It is the meat and potatoes of the meal.   More importantly

What is going on here is actually simple.   Remember when I gave a new definition of Conservatives vs. Liberals (  Basically, conservatives believe that people have foresight, but tend to sin.

The conservatives have recognized that Americans like certain social programs (Social Security being the best liked of all the programs).   But it is still a core belief of conservatives that Social Security and all other such programs are evil.  They can't admit they were wrong, and they don't want to insult americans by claiming they are stupid.  So instead they fall back on their core beliefs, that people tend to sin.  So they consider it an 'addiction'.

Note, similarly, when liberals find that people just are not willing to enact a high gas tax to fight global warming (like Europe has done), we claim that people are short sighted, not sinful.   Again, this has to do with the core mindset of the political groups.

The truth has nothing to do with our mindsets.

The reasons why it is easier to stop a liberal program than it is to end one are rather simple:

  1.  It is much harder to lie about an existing program.  That is, you can stupidly claim that Obamacare will involve "Death Panels", but if you try claiming that Social Security has "Death Panels", you get laughed at.
  2. If the program is successful, it will garner a lot of support from people it has helped.  Before it begins, not everyone that it will help will be aware of it or believe it. In fact, if someone has lied about a program, the people it would help might be afraid of it.
  3. Existing programs get intertwined with other programs and people make plans based on them.   If you include Social Security in your retirement planning, you don't want to have to redo your plans.  Nor do you want to have to figure out how changes in Social Security will affect Medicare. (or vice versa).
  4. The final reason it is easier to stop a program rather than end it is Inertia.  People fear change.  Before a program exists, that fear works against it's creation.  After it exists, that fear works against it's destruction.

How do I know that these four factors are the real reason why Americans support Social Security etc, as opposed to Ann Coulture's ridiculous belief of addiction to a treat?

Simple:  Not all liberal programs work.    I know, I know, I shockingly admitted my own personal political belief's are not always right.

Prime example of flawed liberal programs are actually pretty common.   Almost as common as flawed Conservative programs.  Amazing how one word - 'almost' - can change the idea of a sentence.  A prime example of this was "HAMP" - the "Home Affordable Modification Program" Obama set up to prevent foreclosures.  This plan was horrible.  It did not work.   As such, the conservatives are finding it easy to kill the plan.  They statements about it not working were correct, not lies.   It has few successes, so it has no constituents demanding it be kept.  People know how horrible it is, so they don't make plans based on it.  And the disgust people have over it means it is being tweaked, so inertia is not working on it's favor.

That is how you no Americans are NOT sinfully addicted to government plans.  We only like the ones that actually work. 

So the next time some Republican says people are addicted to liberal programs, tell them no, we are addicted the programs that WORK, whether they are liberal or conservative.  Then ask them which conservative program is so good that people revolt at the idea of changing it.   They do exist - the FBI is a prime example. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

New Privacy Laws we need

Technology has created many new problems, and we need to update our privacy laws.

Let me state that I love cops.  They do a very hard job.  But just as about 1% of Americans are criminals, so about 1% of cops are criminals.  We can't let the few criminal cops get away with hurting innocent people.  AWhile I think anyone ...'open' enough to use Facebook deserves the privacy invasion they offer, I don't consider it to be illegal, just an incredibly expensive service.  Just because it costs no money, doesn't mean it is 'free' - if I were to offer you a free year of World of Warcraft in exchange for incriminating photos, your name, email, friends emails etc. you would probably reject the offer.  Finally, Identity theft is becoming a problem not because it is becoming more prevalent, but because the consequences are much worse.

For these reasons, there are certain privacy rules that need to be established in the new modern age:

  1. Any government official, including police, that is talking to or interacting with the public has ZERO right of privacy.  If the cop knows a civilian can hear them, they know they are not private and therefore that civilian has the right to record them.  The very act of doing your job with the public means you recognize you have no expectation of privacy.  Attempting to arrest someone for photographing, filming, or recording a public official doing their job in public is wrong. It is just intimidation to allow them (the public official) to break the law.  Said public official should be arrested themselves for trying to intimidate the civilian.  Minimam jail time 1 year.   Maximum jail time, 5 years.  
  2. If a person ceases to use a service (and sends either an electronic or paper notification) that service is required by law to destroy all 'non-business transaction' records.  That is, they can keep records of money paid and services/products bought,  along with the name of the person and a physical address/phone number.  But they can not retain any private, identifying information such as email, the the full credit card number (partial number could be retained to identify which card was used), browser information (including search histories, IP addresses, personal settings, etc.
  3. If someone has had a case of Identity Theft, they can request a special "Replacement Social Security Number"  (right now you can not change the one you have.).  Doing so requires you to be photographed, fingerprinted, give a DNA sample, and costs $100.   Such a system would be entirely optional, and it would be forbidden by law to require someone to get or use this RSSN for anything.  If you do this, then you can get a new identity and it requires a Judge's ruling to put any bad credit reports attached to the old SSN on the new RSSN.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Sex Scandal Without Any Sex

I am tempted to just repeat the title of this post time and time again.

Weiner's overblown sex scandal has no sex in it.   Yes, he did make it worse by lying about it.


Worse, it was about S-E-X!

To quote an old SNL quote - Really?  Really?   This is what it has come to?

The man is a bit of a pervert.  And tried to hide it.  Are we next going to kick all gays that were in the closet out of politics?   Lets keep the government out of our sex lives.   It is NOT up to the other elected officials to determine if perverts have enough moral fiber to be in politics.  That job is up to the voters and should be. 

Here is a list of sex scandals without outright accusations of sex (or attempts to have sex) since 1974

(D) Mills 1974 - stopped for speeding with a stripper in the car.  Won re-election, but after that was caught drunk with her again, forced to resign committee chairmanship, and did not seek re-election in 1976.

(R) Evans, (R) Railsback and (R) Quale 1981.  These three republicans shared a cottage with a lobbyist/later playboy bunny during a 1980 vacation.  Their wives were not present.  All three voted as per her request.  Railsback and Quayle denied having sex with her.  Evans regretted his association but never denied sex.   None resigned, Evans lost re-election (Quayle became vice president).

(R ) Thomas, 1991 Accused of unwanted sexual advancements by Ms. Hill.  Won confirmation to Supreme Court.

(R) Konnyu 1987  Two aids complained he sexually harassed them.   No resignation but he lost the next primary.

(D) Bates 1988.  During an election, a report was made of sexual advances toward female staffers.   He claimed it was an election smear.   He won the election then, and was asked to apologize but no call to resign was made.  He lost the next election despite it being a strongly democratic district.

(D) Savage 1989 Accused of fondling a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Ethics committee decided he was guilty but accepted his letter of apology to the women as sufficient.   Won re-election in 19990, lost the primary in 1992

(D) Frank 1989 Gay politician hired Steve Gobie (another gay man)  to work for him in his apartment.   in 1987 he found the worker was using the apartment to run a prostitution service and Franks fired Gobie.  Boston Globe called on Frakn to resign, but Congress failed in an effort to expel or censure him.  They did recommend that Frank be reprimanded for fixing 33 of Gobie's parking tickets.  Won re-election in 1990 by a huge margin.

(R) Strangeland, 1990.  Married with children caught making several hundred long distance calls to the residence of a female lobbyist.  Denied it was romantic, but admitted it was personal.  Lost re-election.

(R) Packwood 1992.  After he won 5th election, the Post reported 10 accusations of sexual harassment.  Eventually (3 years later), he resigned to avoid a senate vote to expel.

(R) Barr, 1990s.   Photographed licking whipped cream off a stripped at an inauguration party.    Did not get so much as a warning.

(R) Foley 2005  Sent email messages of a sexual nature to a former congressional page (minor).  Later it was discovered he had been doing this kind of thing for about a decade.  Some republicans had known and told him to stop, but did not publicize his actions.  Resigned when shown polling data he would not win re-election.


Foley is the most similar offense.   Sure, Weiner sent pictures, but they were to adult women he had not met.   (At least he thought they were all adult - some may have been minors that lied about their age.)  Why were republicans willing to look the other way for 10 years on Foley, but not so much as let Weiner run for re-election?

Because they are afraid Weiner might win re-election (and they were afraid Foley would lose)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Political Basics II

I am going to expand a bit on the Political Basics post I did earlier.  As a recap, I gave three goals for politicians:  Convince your base to support you, convince the undecided to vote for you, and convince your opponents to support your bill.

I left out one more thing - convince your opponents' base to stay home.  At heart, this is the same popularity contest that you use with your own base and with undecided, but the goal is different.

The attempt to convince your base to vote for you is via fear.  Fear consists of three possible actions - mudsling against your opponent (he is a bad guy, we can't let him get in),  general fear of the world/other countries/natural disasters.   We all can recognize a mudslinging attack (he wants to raise taxes, he cheats on his wife, he voted to praise Adolf Hitler, he beats up children, etc.), but the most common one is "he is an extremists of the wrong kind".   General fear examples are:  Fear  of Communists, Fear of Terrorists, Fear of Running Out of Oil, Fear of Pollution, Fear of Nuclear Accidents, Fear of Bankrupt Government.  Now, these fears may be true, or they may be false - that doesn't matter to the politician.  The idea is to convince the base that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE  (and I am the guy to do it!)

To attempt to convince your opponents base to stay home, you have 2 core options.  One is to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt your mudslinging is true.  This generally requires either an admittance or very good physical evidence  (semen stained dress, pictures, audiotape, etc.).    The other option is instead take the high ground and convince everyone their mudslinging is false.  If you can effectively portray yourself as honorable and not extremists, then you can have people saying "eh, I don't care if the other guy wins."   This means you have to take a middle of the road stance (see below).

The undecided generally however are not moved by fear.  They don't totally believe your fear and are just as afraid that you will go too far (i.e. turning Fascist to to stop the Commies/Terrorists, giving up oil completely, stopping all chemicals, etc. etc.)  Instead, to convince them, you need to demonstrate that you are not an extremists.  This is often directly at odds with appealing to your own base. It will however, help you convince your opponent's base to stay home.  They will however be affected by proven true mudslinging statements that your opponents base accepts.

Finally, to convince your opponents to support your bill, you need to be a moderate, or at least appear to be one.

So being an extreme helps you win your base, but also helps your opponent's base.  Being a moderate, helps you defeat your opponent's base, helps your  with the undecided, and helps you convince your opponent to support your bill.

But then scale pops up and knocks everything for a loop.  Everything I mentioned really only applies to the average within the voting area.  If an area is itself far right, than their "moderate" is actually Far Right.  Similarly, in a far left district, the "moderate" is far left.

Now comes the hard part, moving from your own district to a wider stage.  If you are moderate for your district, it takes a lot to realize that you are not moderate for all. Worse, as you agree with your own district, you may not even realize that  yours is NOT the "real America", that in fact, you may be the wierd Extremist.  This can radically shape your world view, so you don't understand the rest of the country.  For example, many conservatives feel that marriage is in trouble.   The weird thing is that in liberal America, marriages last longer, with fewer divorces.   Marriage may be in trouble - for the conservatives.  But not for the Liberals.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fixing Social Security

By fix it I mean make it self-sufficient, taking in more money than it spends.

There are three ways to fix Social Security.

  1. Raise the retirement age. 
  2. Invest in the stock market as opposed to US treasuries.
  3. Eliminate the cap on the tax, effectively taxing the rich.

Any of these solutions can work.  They all have issues that people object to.

1.  Raising the retirement age really doesn't solve the problem, so much as redefine it.  It moves people from "Old people costing us money" to "Unemployed Poor people costing us money".  If you are trying to simply stop paying them, it is easier to cut spending on poor people than old people.  Fairly evil.    Oh, you think they will get jobs?  That just takes jobs away from younger people.  We suddenly don't get more jobs available because we have more people available.   Even if unemployment was super low, older people are NOT lazy.  If they are employable and don't have enough savings, they already keep working.  Even if they DON'T have skills, they get work.     Part of the problem is that skills age and most businesses prefer to hire younger people than older people   Raising the retirement age just shifts the problem, it does not solve it.

2.  Investing in the stock market has lots of issues.  A good friend recently suggested this, and we discussed it recently, but we left out some facts.    First of all, we already let people do that - it's called a 401 K and an IRA and a hundred similar plans.   Second of all, while some people like to think they have an "account" at the Social Security Administration, they don't.  Yes the SSA currently has extra money coming in, which is invested in Treasury bonds.  But that is all in one big pool.   There is no pot of money defined as yours.  Instead you get a defined benefit, without any specific pot of money working for you.  This makes it harder to let some people invest in the market and not others.  Thirdly the entire reason for Social Security was to give a rock solid, 100% guarantee pay out.  Would it make some sense to invest some of it in the stock market?  Possibly.  But that effectively means the US government is taking some risk, not the citizens.   Fourthly, if we invest the SS money in something besides Treasury bonds, that means the SSA is either selling some of it's existing Treasuries to buy Index Funds (or possibly not buying more treasuries - so China would buy more of them, and instead using that money to buy Index Funds).  In either case, what it comes down to from an outside point of view is the government selling treasuries and using the money from those sales to invest in Index Funds. This both increases the interest rates for treasuries and puts the US government at large market risk.

3.  Eliminating the cap on taxes makes the most sense to me.   Effectively it means that rich people would pay the same percent 7.65% (15.3% if you include the employer half - which self employed people must do)  that all of us poor people do.    Right now, that tax is 'capped' at only 7.65% of the first 106,800.    The main problem people have with this, is that the benefits you get are capped.   Social Security was originally sold (and many still think of it) as a pay in now, get back later.  But honestly, that is not the case.  In reality it is pay in now, use that same money to pay out others now.   Effectively, if we get rid of the cap, it looks less like an 'investment' and more like welfare.  But in reality it was NEVER an investment.

Out of the box solutions.

1.  We could fiddle with the ages without actually lowering them.  I.E.  Keep the Early retirement (reduced) of 62, but extend the full retirement age from 67 to 70 and move "enhanced benefits from 70 to 75.  We could alter the Spousal/widower/children benefits also, those that get more complicated.

2.  We could use annuity tables to generate a virtual "investment pool" for people, then allow them to choose to invest a portion of their money in approved index funds, upto say 20% if you are younger than 45, and upto 10% if you are younger than 55.   The SSA would aggregate this and use these virtual pools to determine how much money to put into those same index funds instead of being used to buy treasuries. We could have the US government maintain the absolute guarantee of a minimum pay out, in exchange for half of any profits from the index funds (which would then be used to help keep the whole system a float.

The problem is that effectively, all we did was create a larger administration program to let all citizens vote on  how much to invest in the index funds. We would be paying them with some of the profit, which makes them happy, but is it a good idea?   I personally would rather just let some conservative financial experts make those decisions, rather than put it to a vote.

3.  We could raise the cap instead of eliminate it and/or raise the benefit a small amount for people that exceeded the cap.   This would be carefully done so that the benefit would be far less than the cap raise/elimination brings in.  To my mind this is a reasonably good offer.  A slight increase in benefits for the very rich could quite easily make the bitter pill of being forced to pay the same percentage of tax that the poor do go down easily.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to decrease unemployment

I just read an interesting article by Dave Johnson.  In it he talked about creating jobs, and how taxes don't affect it.  At hart, he states that you only get taxed on profit, and if the business is profitable, you do it anyway, while if the idea is not profitable, taxes don't matter.   You have to make the decision on whether to hire new people before you look at taxes, not after.    In addition to this core idea, he made some other good points, but I  don't agree with everything he said.   I would like to expand the scope a bit - creating jobs is only half of the story.

I am going to talk about how to decrease unemployment, which is not just about creating jobs.  Among other things, it doesn't help if Starbucks 'creates' 4 new jobs by destroying opening up a new store that drives an older, mom and pop store employing 5 people, out of business.   What matters is how many people are unemployed, not merely job creation.

There are two parts of decreasing unemployment:   Increasing Demand for a product requiring workers and decreasing the Supply of workers.

First, let's talk about decreasing Supply, as it is easier and simpler to explain.   Basically, if less people look for a job, that lowers unemployment.  It doesn't matter if they retire (at normal age or early), give up looking, go to jail, die (starvation from not being able to feed themselves, from a bullet in a war, or from drug overdose, it doesn't matter), or hit it big in the lottery.

It is obvious that the lottery is not an effective method.  It costs large amounts of money and removes very few people from unemployment.   Of the other options, the best one by far is early retirement.  The rest are very depressing - and have an unfortunate tendency to increase automatically when unemployment goes up.  If anything the government should strive to avoid the others, but increase the number of people retiring.  If you want to fight unemployment, lower the retirement age for Social Security.  This will immediately and directly cause some people to retire, opening up jobs for others to take.  Of course, Social Security needs some help, so that may not be the best idea.   Also note, that obviously raising the retirement age for Social Security to help out the Social Security will clearly increase unemployment.   Either way, you get rid of one problem by making others worse.  Note I am not advocating messing with Social Security, I think we should leave it alone.  I am just pointing out that changing the retirement age merely moves someone from one problem category to the other.

Now lets talk about increasing Demand.  That is a much more upbeat topic, and one where the government has multiple activities that it can do to help.  There are five ways to increase demand, and therefore jobs related to the production and sale of products.

The first was the invention of a new product.  No one wants something they don't know exist.  Whenever a new product is invented, a slew of new jobs are created.  The particular product example I am going to use is seat belts. With the invention of seat belts, you got designers, manufacturers, salesmen, managers, etc. all making and selling the new, revolutionary product.  All of those jobs are new jobs, not old ones cannibalized from competitors.  Government helps the invention of new products via patents and also via extensive research grants.  In general, most new products are NOT invented by the rich, but instead by the hungry.  New drug research is one of the few counter examples, but even then more new drugs are created by small companies that get bought by the big ones, than get started at the big companies.

The second method to increase demand for a product is advertising.  Once you create a new product, you need to tell people about it, and sometimes to convince them they need.  Research had to be done to show that seat belts save lives, then everyone had to be told this.  Repeatedly.   Note, advertising also works even if they really don't need it, as numerous personal hygiene products can tell you, artificial demand is still profitable demand.  The government generally does not help with advertising, except in rare cases, but it generally does not prevent it (again, with a few - tobacco and alcohol - rare exceptions).

Another, related way to increase demand is to create a new usage for an old products. Aspirin was originally a pain reliever, that got expanded to heart attack and many other medical usages.  The government generally does not help create new uses.  In fact, this is one area where government sometimes prevents new uses (off label medical usage for example.).  Advertisers and consultants are always on the look out for new uses.

The fourth method to increase demand is distribution.  It is not enough to offer the product for sale, it must be available and delivered to the customer in a timely fashion.  The government is a major aid to distribution via both the internet and the physical transport networks it maintains (roads, railroads, shipping, airports, pipelines, etc.)  High quality communication and transport facilities are essential to product usage. If you want to increase jobs, enhance communication networks, cheapen transportation costs,  and speed up transportation. That allows goods to move, enabling for example, people to sell Alaskan Oil in California. 

Finally, the last method to increase demand is to bundle it with another product.  Whether it is via corporate contracts/rules (iPhone only with specific phone networks), or by legal requirements (cars must have seat belts), when you force someone to buy something, it's demand goes up, and people get employed.  Governments do this all the time. Conservatives dislike this method because they are afraid that while the demand for the required item goes up, total demand for the desired item goes down.  This does happen, but VERY VERY rarely.  At heart, it requires the desired item's demand to be soft, with a cheaper alternative around. 

That is, if you require all coal power plants to install better air purifiers, to capture pollution, demand for coal produced electricity does not go down, unless non-coal electricity is cheaply available nearby.  The same amount of coal will be burned.  Yes, the price of coal-electricity will go up, reducing the total amount of funds other people have to spend, but that amount of money goes DIRECTLY to creating the better air-purifiers, for a net gain in jobs.  If in fact there is a nuclear power plant nearby that suddenly becomes profitable, that is not a bad thing, but a good thing.  You haven't lost jobs, but instead shifted them from one area to another - as long as the nuclear power plant has similar safety requirements.  Note coal/nuclear is a prime example as coal has a long established history of being far worse for the environment than nuclear, despite people's unreasonable fear of nuclear accidents and active avoidance of knowledge of the estimated one thousand people that die each year from coal burning.  In fact, when the government attempts to regulate a business to destruction, illegal businesses spring up, keeping those jobs the government tried to kill (illegal drugs are a prime example).  Regulations almost always create more jobs than they destroy.  In fact, when regulations actually do destroy a business, that generally means the business was 'evil' and based on deceiving their customers.  A prime example of this was the destruction of the patent medicine trade when we regulated them into admitting the amount of cocaine in their product.

So why do businesses complain about being regulated?  Because the regulations create profits for the new companies hired to fulfill the regulations, at the direct cost to the original base industry.  That is, the coal companies lose 100 million that would have gone into their owners' bank account, but the smokestack scrubbers gain 100 million that goes mostly to new employees, with say 10 million going to a business man's bank account.  I am not against money going into people's bank account but this is about JOB creation.

So, lets look at who actually create jobs:
1. The major industries that create real jobs are advertising (including all media), transportation, and communication/internet.    Other industries do NOT create jobs, at best, they fill existing demand created by advertising, and enabled by transportation /communication.  Manufacturers do not create jobs, they fill already existing jobs.  If they didn't do it, someone else would.   In fact, much of the management gets paid to destroy jobs, thereby becoming leaner/increasing profit margins. Hence outsourcing and robotics.

2. Poorer people who come up with a new idea.  Why 'poor' and not rich?  Two reasons - (A) the rich don't have the motivation, and (B) if the idea is worthwhile, they make money, becoming richer than they were before, Q.E.D. they were 'poorer' when they came up with the idea.  If you honestly create new jobs, you will become rich - regardless of taxes.

3.  The government does in fact create jobs.  It creates them by funding research, funding transportation and communication systems, and by regulating industries.  Regulations are more likely to create jobs than to kill them.  It takes a really bad regulation to reduce jobs via sales reductions than to increase jobs by required work.   If the business has a real demand, regulating it increases jobs, it doesn't destroy them.  Now, regulations may have other bad effects, but they definitely create jobs.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Medical costs in the US

Medical costs are relatively high in the US as compared to most other countries.  Surprising, it is not the elderly or the overweight, drug users, or malpractice

First a list of things that are rumored to be the problem, but are not.

  1. Elderly care.  While elderly care is expensive, we have less elderly people as a percent of citizens and of patients than other countries (Japan, Europe, etc.)
  2. We do a lot more Outpatient spending - 41% of total care - than others.  Some claim this allows higher profit margins.  Others claim that outpatient spending is cheaper than inpatient spending, so it is better to pay $1000 ($300 of which is profit) on outpatient, than to pay $1500 ($100 of which is profit) for inpatient.    While outpatient spending does take up almost 41% of our health care costs, it is hard to make a reasoned argument to shift to the more expensive inpatient care.
  3. Our doctors are paid more than in other countries as well, but again, that is about 3% of total health care costs.  Not significant
  4. Malpractice awards account for less than 2% of overall spending - high, but not affecting costs significantly.
  5. Obesity does affect costs, but only a tiny percent.  Again, about 2%.  

A comparison of the money actually spent reveals the following:

  1.  Providers overcharge - on average 118% higher for medication, more so for procedures.
  2.  Administrative costs are high - about 21% of total costs - which is about double what other countries pay.

So lets deal with those two issues. 1)  Expensive medication and procedures are INTENTIONALLY built into the system.  Expensive drugs are there to pay for research.  We pay $20 a pill for aids medication that costs $1 to make, because the company that makes that drug investigated 2,000 other drugs to figure out which one works.  Hospitals etc. overcharge for procedures to pay for people without insurance.  The simplest way to reduce the ridiculous overcharging is to provide some form of health insurance for all.

Second, Administrative costs are high in large part due to HMO's and the other newer insurance plans.  Old style plans had lower administrative costs.  It should also be noted that Medicare and Medicare have some of the LOWEST administrative costs.  While there may be some debate about Medicare (specialized population with similar needs - they charge the same per person, but less per $ because old people have higher needs), Medicaid is a much better comparison and has costs of between eight to twelve percent.  This means that government run health care programs have LESS administrative costs than private plans.  And Administrative costs are the most important reason why American health care is so expensive.

P.S. I got much of this information from SOURCE, which, while they presented numbers made multiple obvious logical errors in their argument (not checking percentages for doctors, not looking at the reasons for the overcharging, not comparing to medicare and medicaid, etc.)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cain and Santorum = 2 more possible GOP candidates

I left out two potential GOP candidates when I discussed them earlier.

First is another Self Inflicted wounded.  Senator Rick Santorum.  He angered the web so badly that they created a new disgusting curse word out of his name.  If you must know what it is, google it, I won't describe it here.  This was done in large part as protest against his anit-homosexual comments and views.  The point is not his views (or the definition of the neologism that was created.)  Instead it is just one more example of members of the far right angering the middle, let alone the left.  People that inspire that much vile are not well suited to lead.

The second is another Zero.  Herman Cain is a successful business man, radio host and Chariman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.   But he has zero experience as a GOP candidate.  If he is serious about running for office, he should first win a lesser office. At least win a primary.  He has previously lost a primary for the Republican Senator candidacy in Georgia.  Granted, GOP primary elections are tough, but they are not as tough as a presidential run.  Georgia - both the GOP and the state, preferred Johnny Isakson to Herman Cain as Senator, what makes him think the entire country would be different?

Friday, June 3, 2011


Abortion is one of the most difficult  and intractable issues in American politics. It involves ethical issues of the highest nature, compounded by strong religious views.

At heart the issue is one of the deepest philosophical issues: What makes a sentient being?  At what point does a lump of flesh with human DNA cease to be a lump of flesh and become a human being, with all the inherent rights and responsibilities.

The truth is we do not know the answer with 100% certainty.   Worse, humans have a tendency to de-humanize other humans via prejudice.  The history of slavery, the Holocaust, and other assorted discrimination makes all intelligent people very reluctant to declare "You are not fully Human, and we therefore can kill you."

I have identified the following major camps in the argument.

  1. "Zealots" that claim they know the truth, handed down by God (via the pope if they are catholic).  They claim to know for sure that life begins at conception, and that therefore abortion is murder.
  2. "Doubting Thomas's" that claim we don't know for sure, and that therefore, we should take the safer, more ethical choice and criminalize abortion.
  3. "Deniers" that claim we don't know for sure, and that therefore we should not criminalize something that destroys the lives of so many women.
  4. "Evidence-rs" that claim, while 100% certainty is impossible, the huge pre-ponderous of evidence shows life begins long after inception, so abortion is not murder.

I am in camp four, the evidence-rs.  

The zealots need a lesson in American politics.   There is nothing wrong with basing your beliefs on your religion.  But in the US you can't base your political arguments on religion.   The Government can not legally base law on a religious belief.  Attempting to force your religion on other Americans makes you a traitor.   The zealots should  take civic lessons until they understand that America is NOT a "christian" country, it is a secular one.   The very founding of our nation, while it was done in large part by Christians, was based on the belief that no religious group would be in charge.  No establishment of religion, nothing that would prevent the free exercise of religion.  It is the first amendment to the Constitution, without which, most of the founders REFUSED to join the country.  You can worship whichever god you want, you can base your personal beliefs on that god.  But if you want to pass a law, you should not so much as mention that religion in the discussion.  You need secular reasons to pass the law, and the zealots make no attempt to do this.

The Doubting Thomas's are the people I disagree with but still respect.  They make the second best argument, but I find it ignorant of many facts.  More about those facts later.

The Deniers are not as bad as the Zealots.  At least they have not betrayed their country.  But I am not persuaded by the belief "we don't know it's bad, so its OK to do."  That bit of stupidity caused millions of people to take up smoking before it was 'proven' bad, caused thousands of women to take Thalidomide (mostly Europeans, the US wisely never let it in), put Asbestos in schools and buildings throught the world, to name just a few examples.

Now for the evidence I mentioned earlier.

  1. At inception, a human embryo is one cell.  It takes 4 days to become 16 cells.  This is not a human being, by any definition of the word, except based on DNA.   DNA is found in skin cells, and tatooing kills more of them than 16.  Tattooing is not called murder.
  2. We can freeze an embryo (up to 8 cells - less than 4 days after fertilzation), store it for 16 years (source), and re implant it in a woman.  There is no increase in birth defects.  We can't do this to a human being. Four days is still not a human being.
  3. About 20% of pregnancies naturally terminate in the first 3 months.  If God does exist, then this would be incredibly cruel. God is not cruel, QED these embryos do not have a mind/soul.  If God does not exist, then the fragility of the embryo is strong evidence against  it having a mind.  Brains are expensive, energy intensive things, that need a fulling working support system.
  4. Embryos develop using "embryological parallelism."  Basically this means that pregnancy follows evolution.  It starts out as a single cell organism, turns into a colony, then into a single organism that looks a lot like a worm, develops slits that look similar to the gills of a fish, etc.  The gills etc are not functional, but you get the idea.  The embryo first creates simple parts, enhances them, lastly makes the most complicated parts.  It does nothing at all on the brainstem until the 2nd month.  It doesn't make a brain that is more advanced than an adult monkey until at least the 4th month.  It takes a full 7 months to complete the development of the cells in the brain (at 7 months, all the cells are there, but they are not fully connected to each other).  The brain itself continues to mature (connect everything up) until 6 months after birth.
  5. Brains work by connections.  The wrinkles are there to allow more connections.  That is why Einstein could be a genius without being significantly larger - it is the connections that matter, not the size.  One Quadrillion synaptic connections in fact for a live human being.  Just having the cells is NOT enough, they need to talk to one another.
  6. Doctors have a solid, legal definition of death: "Brain Death".  In the US, if someone is declared brain dead, then disconnecting the machines that keep their body alive is not murder. (Dority v. Superior Court of San Bernardino County, 193 Cal.Rptr. 288, 291 (1983)))  Brain death is usually determined by multiple EEG readings.  An EEG measures the electrical activity along the scalp, resulting from the curents within the brain.  Embryos don't have scalp.  Instead, a more advanced machine called an Magnetoencephalography (MEG) can be used for people that don;t have scalps.  They are used for burn victims.  Fetal MEG's can detect brain activity after the 5th month - but not all the time.  Some fetus's take 6 months.

The first 5 steps are pretty solid.  Enough for me to say "Your belief in a mind at conception is foolish, and you offer no reasonable later date."  But the sixth is the killer.   We have a definition of death - used by the law and by doctors.  If the fetus fails the definition, then legally it is dead, and we can disconnect it from the life support.  Whether that life support is a hear/lung machine, or the womb of it's mother, is irrelevant.

If I was in charge, the law would be simple.  A.   Abortion at under 3 months would be legal in all cases.  B. Abortion after 4 months would require an MEG to confirm no brain activity.  This gives some leeway.  C)  All hospitals that receive federal money would be required by law to allow abortions in them under 4 months, no waiting, no lectures.   By law, if they showed up before the 4 months, with a doctor willing to do it, the hospital must do it that same day.  Individual medical personal would not be required to participate, but the hospital must have the names of sufficient personal willing to do the procedure and give them to the patient.  D).  Any hospital that had an MEG machine (or similar device) would be required to offer abortion after 4-months if the MEG indicated the fetus was legally dead.