Friday, September 28, 2012

My Predictions for 2012 Elections

Here are my predictions for the 2012 elections.

Presidency: Obama will win re-election, most likely by a rather large number of electoral votes, but a relatively close popular vote.

House of Representatives.  All Representatives are up for re-election every two years, each has a two year term.  Republicans maintain control, but lose some seats.    Right now the numbers are 240 Republicans, 190 Democrats and 5 vacancies.  If I had to put actual numbers, I would say in 2013 it would start as 230 Republicans, 205 Democrats, no vacancies.   As always, all House seats are always up for grab, but Obama will probably lend some extra effort to the Democrats, along with the general hatred of the House that has developed over the past couple of years.

Senate:  One third of all Senators are up for re-election every 2 years, each has a six year term.  The Democrats will lose a couple of Senate seats, but maintain a bare majority, including the independents.  Currently the totals are 51 Democrats plus 2 independents, vs 47 Republicans.  But far more Democrats are up for re-election this cycle (21 Democrats + 2 independents vs 10 Republicans up for re-election).  This does not give the Democrats many chances to pick up an extra seat or two.  I expect that after the election we will have 50 Democrats plus 1 Independent vs 49 Republicans.    The same will happen in 2014 (20 Democrats vs 13 Republicans up for re-election)  But 2016 gives the Democrats a real chance to win back some seats (10 Democrats vs 24 Republicans up for re-election).

Most likely this will end with far more gridlock.   To end it we will either need real leadership among the Republicans (unlikely) or a greatly enhanced deal making by Obama.   Slight differences in numbers could tremendously affect the next administration.

The main advantage to the Democrats will be Supreme Court judge picks.   We can replace some aging liberal Judges, and, god-forbid, there is the chance one of the older conservative Judges will get ill and need to be replaced. 

Given the GOP's continued concentration on far right national politics, this could be the path for the foreseeable future.  The Democrats controlling the Presidency and sometimes the Senate, while the GOP controls Congress by putting forth moderate Republicans in moderate districts and zealots in the conservative districts.

If nothing changes, then eventually - they will turn off the moderates and lose the House.  This may cause them to rethink their strategy, but nothing short of losing the house will do this.   The other hope is that a true Republican leader emerges.  Someone that can go against the far right zealots that rule local politics and put forth a solid centrist platform that revitalizes the Republican Party.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More Akin vs McCaskill

Right now Akin looks like he has been doing a pretty good job apologizing and defending his status among Missourians.

That may change starting tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 25).  Today, Tuesday the 24th, is the last day for him to withdraw.

Because of that, Claire McCaskill has been hoarding her money - she didn't want to spend cash attacking him, then have him withdraw and have to face some other Republican challenger.

 The race has been tight, neck and neck, although the latest poll (by Rasmussen a conservative, Fox controlled corporation) show McCaskill with a six point lead.

Claire may start to spend some of her war chest, solidifying her re-election.   Expect to hear more about this race in the next couple of weeks.  Originally McCaskill was considered a vulnerable seat, because Missouri is relatively republican.

More importantly, the situation there reflects the general situation in the country as a whole.  Republicans have allowed their party to be controlled by the far right zealots, turning off the moderates and even their own conservative base.

When you have conservative women voting for democrats because the Republican party is too far right for them, then Democrats win.  If the GOP wishes to regain the House and the Senate, all they have to do is tone down the ridiculous over the top stuff that they have been using to enliven their base.

You can't win with just your base, you need to attract moderates and convince your opponent's base that you are not that bad. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why the US goes to War

US military policy is fairly consistent, at least for the past 20 years.

It is determined by three distinct, unwritten principles, none of which are directly related to resources, such as oil.  Unlike Japan in World War II, or the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the United States has never gone to war over oil.  If you have oil and refuse to sell to the US, you are entirely safe from the US.  Even if you preach hate against the USA, we simply won't go to war against you.

So, why exactly do we go to war?  We only go to war if all three of these conditions are met:

  1. We think the target country is imperialistic. If they talk about conquering other countries, particularly US allies, they failed this test.  Or, if they give the impression that they are in fact literally insane - and therefore can't assure the US that they are not imperialistic (Gaddafi).  We learned this lesson from World War II Japan and Germany.  We won't forget it for the foreseeable future.
  2. They are not willing to work with the US.  Pakistan is the perfect counter-example of this.  They are imperialistic (ask India) but consistently agree to work with the US - despite the rather crazy stuff they do and say.   The US could have gone to war over Pakistan hiding Osama Bin Laden.  We invaded Afghanistan over pretty much that same issue.   But Pakistan said enough of the right things to avoid this.  This was not an accident, Pakistan worked very hard to avoid a US invasion.  We learned this lesson from Vietnam.   We lost that war and nothing bad happened.  Why? Because despite their communist imperialistic shouting, they were pretty reasonable.
  3. The country has to be powerful enough to be scary.   Note attempting to buy or build nuclear weapons is just one of several ways to make yourself scary.   We don't care about Sudan, etc. because even if they conquer a nearby country, we can still easily crush them without significant casualties on our part. It's just not worth it for a country that poor and weak.   But we pay a lot more attention to Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, etc.
Please note that resources, human rights, even outright genocide pretty much do not cause the USA to go to war - as long as it remains an internal matter and we think of you as being foolish, not imperialistic.  If you start invading other countries and are powerful, then we start caring about genocide.  If you are powerful and invading other countries, then we start caring about human rights.   If you are powerful, invading other countries, and are saying the wrong things, then expect US munitions to find you.

If you don't like the United States, you could say the US doesn't like "uppity countries".  If you do like the US, then you can say the US "wields it's power responsibly".  The point is, it's not about oil, it's not about genocide, it's about unrestrained imperialism.

In any case, you don't need to worry about us invading your country or even starting a revolution in it for oil or other resources.  We learned our lesson about that about 60 years ago (1953 Iran debacle ). 

No country is perfect.   The USA is so powerful in large part because we learn from our past mistakes.  We fix our problems, as opposed to relive them.  When it comes to military might, the US has learned from painful experience, to invade only when it is like the Nazi Germany, not like Communist Vietnam.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What's wrong with Voter ID laws

It's not the fact that it's a solution to a non-existent problem.  There have been almost no prosecutions, let alone convictions for voting as someone else - the only kind of voter fraud this law could possibly prevent. 

It's not even the fact that a Republican admitted the law was written specifically to dis-enfranchise democrats (source).  This is evil,  and the reason why the laws are written so poorly, but the motive is not the problem.

It's not the fact that it does nothing at all to affect the actually dangerous voter fraud of stuffing ballot boxes and intentional miscounting. 

The problem is the laws don't stop voter fraud and are specifically written to ensure the real voter fraud continues, while at the same time stopping legitimate voters from voting.  They take affect immediately, with little warning, and no preparation.  No attempt to work the kinks out of a law that will affect who is president.

So, let's suppose you were in fact concerned about voter fraud.  How would you write the laws to fix it?

  1. Ease into it.  Don't do it in a presidential election year, start with smaller stakes, and slowly build it up, over five or six years.  This lets you work out the kinks, as opposed to immediately affecting a national election.   You won't say "oops, we didn't know we were preventing all black people from voting".
  2. Make it easier to get ID cards.  Right now it is both physically impossible for certain people to legitimately get an ID card, and at the same time, ridiculously easy for con men to do so fraudulently.
  3. Build teeth into the law - that is, after the five/six year build up, if you attempt to vote without the ID card you don't simply get sent away, you get arrested and charged with Identity Theft.   If you win the legal case, the judge declares your identity and gives you official ID.  If you lose, you go to jail.
So lets look at these factors in depth.

One:  The right way to do Voter ID would be to ease into it.  First two years, you get asked to show ID and if you have it, fine.  If you don't, you are given paperwork - in your own language - telling you how to get ID, and what will happen next.   Third and fourth year you are given a provisional ballot and have to show up in court to get it counted.   Fifth and Sixth year you finally can't vote and (see rule #3) are arrested if you don't have ID. 

Two:  Our ID requirements now are fairly ridiculous, particularly for someone that lives in a different state than what they are born into, and/or if there were fires/other destruction of governmental ID.   For example, in South Carolina, their ID law lets people vote by declaring that they don't have and ID because they don't have transportation.  But then you have to show up at a hearing to prove it - which you can't easily do without transportation!  Ridiculous.  It's a trick.  Similarly, they let people vote with expired gun ID's but not with current college photo IDs.

Here are the four things you need to get an ID  in the United States.:

  1. Proof of Citizenship.  In general you need a Birth Certificate - issued by a, state, or Consular.  Or if you were not born a citizenship, you need a Naturalization Certificate or Certificate of Citizenship.  But ANYONE can get a birth certificate from the state by mail.   It just costs money, no proof needed beyond your personal word that you are that person (or that person's guardian).  You need to know their full name, where they were born, and the date of their birth.  Nothing more.  Birth Certificates prove that the person was born in the country, not that you are the person.
  2. Social Security Card matching that citizenship. To get one of these without other government ID, you generally need Employ ID, School ID, Health Insurance Card.
  3. Identification showing who you are.  Generally it it is a bunch of rather easily obtainable stuff such as Library Card, School ID cards, pay stubs, a witness who knew you for at least two years, Credit Card, Employee ID, bills, etc.   To get them you merely have to spend a couple of years living under that name.
  4. Finally you need transportation and the time to wade through the bureaucracy.  The working poor have neither.  College students and senior citizens often don't have the transportation.
In other words, basically anyone can get these ID's rather easily, it just takes time and knowing the name, date and location of birth.

So why not make it easier?  It's easy to eliminate issue four, which doesn't affect security.  At every single Post Office, have  a direct virtual private network (computer speak for very secure) link to all 50 states Birth Records department, plus Consular Records, plus the Social Security Administration.   A single unified location to go in with your evidence and out with a photo ID.

I know, some of you are thinking "That will just make it easier to commit ID theft."

A centralized system makes it easier to catch the ID theft, not to do it.  If your the federal government takes you picture gets taken when you apply for the various ID cards, then they can compare it to a national database.  If your picture already exists or does not match the existing one, they look into it further and fix the problem.  We could even set it up as an optional system - you can use the regular method, or the 'expedited version' - which is free and quick, but involves fingerprinting and iris scanning.  We could also check all other information we have on the person to make sure that they aren't committing fraud and/or don't have arrest warrants out for them.  We can compare with existing photos.  For example, we could check death certificates as well as birth certificates (something we don't do now when you ask for a birth certificate).

 Centralized systems prevent fraud, at least if they are done correctly.

Three:  Finally, we should be trying to catch these voter frauds, not catch and release.  The very idea of simply stopping a criminal from voting as opposed to stopping them and arresting them is quite frankly vile and evil.   If someone is committing a crime we should arrest them, not look the other way.

The only reason the GOP doesn't already demand the arrest is that they know everyone they arrest would be innocent, costing the state millions, if not billions, and ending with the GOP being thrown out of office for wasting our time and money.

Well, we shouldn't let them waste the time and money of our legal, patriotic voters anymore than we should let them waste the time and money of our courts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How to fix Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicare and Medicaid are in serious trouble.  Shortly their costs will skyrocket above their assets and income from the taxes designed to pay for them.  There are three distinct ways we can deal with this situation.

  1. Tax the general population to pay for the elderly health care and/or healthcare for the poor.
  2. Have Medicare/Medicaid not pay for certain extremely expensive treatments.
  3. Focus medical research on finding cheaper ways to treat/cure illness, as opposed to finding new ways to treat/cure diseases that we do not currently have effective treatments

First, those are the not the only possible ways to cure the problem.  We could theoretically grow the economy to a huge extent, giving jobs for all and offering huge salaries so retired people choose to go back to work, moving them to private insurance.   Or if you prefer a nightmare as opposed to a fantasy, we could be swept by disease, famine, or war, which would kill significant numbers of the poor and elderly.  But for obvious reasons, I am going to ignore these possible 'solutions'.   Enough fantasy and nightmares, lets move back to the real world.

Lets' start out by saying that we already do all three of these things and that in all likely-hood the solution will continue to be a combination of all three.

Now let's talk about which of these three reasonable situations we should focus on.

Well, we have a large national debt, so option 1 is not the best idea. Note, if we do nothing at all, it automatically gets used (as there is no law preventing the government from using general taxes to fund those health care programs) so it would probably be a better idea to work on the other options.

Option # 2 is slightly better - have medicare/medicaid not pay for certain extremely expensive treatments.    Right away, someone is going to shout 'rationing'.  Nope.  Rationing is some group decides who gets a treatment and who doesn't.   If insurance doesn't pay for anyone to get that treatment, it's simply called an uncovered treatment.  Or, if you are Ayn Rand, CAPITALISM.   There are a lot of uncovered treatments.

This is not a liberal/democrat plan, it is a conservative/republican plan.  When you privatize insurance without regulations, that is exactly what happens.  It does so in a rather irregular manner, but it happens. As I said earlier, it is the heart of capitalism: if you want the procedure, you can pay for it - either by getting better insurance/supplemental insurance, or by paying for it out of pocket.

  • For example, you medicare and medicaid don't pay for crystal therapy to cure brain cancer.  Why?  Because the medical community doesn't think it works. (They are correct.)
  • It also doesn't pay for 'experimental treatments', such as face transplants.  Many people think these do work, but we don't really have enough evidence.
  • But insurance also does not pay for certain things simply because they are too expensive for the benefit.  In Spain, you pay tens of thousands of dollars to get electrical implants that paralyze the nerves that cause migraines.   But Medicare and Medicaid don't offer that treatment because migraines aren't worth it.
Limiting coverage is not evil, as long as it is done based on the cost, not on the person.  If for example we choose to cover penis cancer, but not breast cancer even though penis cancer is more expensive, that's an ethical problem.   The best way to do this is to do it explicitly - have an outright cost/benefit analysis done, with what I call a "soft limit".  That is, things that are low cost, high benefit automatically get paid at full cost.  Things at or near the edge get a set payment and the user must make up the difference, while things significantly above the cost/benefit line gets no payments.

This "soft limit" method means that we pay some money even for things that are questionable, but not excessive.  Trust me when you need the treatment, you will be glad for that money, particularly if you don't have to complain to get it.

This brings us to the the best option, #3.   It requires some massive changes in our research an development.  Right now there are huge incentives to come up with more expensive treatments or cures, not cheaper ones. The only 'cheaper' option we have is generic drugs.  We don't need new expensive and slightly better treatments.   We need to change the focus of our research.

We could for example change the laws as follows:
  1. Offer only a 10 year patent protection for treatments or diagnostic methods unless they fall into the 'cheaper' categories below.
  2. Offer a 20 year patent protection for treatments /diagnostic methods that are at least half the cost of current methods.  If we don't have any treatment/diagnostic method yet, then the comparison cost is infinite.
  3. Offer a 20 year patent protection for cures - assuming the cure costs less than 10% of the estimated current treatment for the life of the patient. 
  4. Offer a 30 year patent protection for cures that are at least half the cost of the current method/treatment - but the price can not rise above that for the duration of the patent (or the patent vanishes).
 That system could theoretically radically change the focus of future research away from expensive methodologies and towards cheaper diagnostics,  treatments and cures.

Oh and there is one more thing we can do to cut costs without affecting service:  Eliminate medical mistakes.  Currently, medical mistakes are a leading cause of death - killing more people that Aids.  (Source) The current system evolved as a response to law suits, so it focuses on hiding what really happened.  We need to fix that system.

I suggest the following:   By law require all hospitals to offer 'Open Surgery'.  If the patient chooses 'Open Surgery', then they give up all right to sue for anything more than medical costs caused by the surgery, or $300,000 for death.  Put in a requirement that the doctor must be fully certified, sober,  and broke no laws (or the legal limits vanish).  In exchange, they get a full video record of the surgery, and a copy goes to the AMA, which would be instructed to create new surgical procedures based on what they find.   We still would need to find some way to discover and prevent non-surgical errors.

Finally, remember that we are probably going to have to do a mix of all three of these fixes.  One alone won't solve the problem.  But a combination of limited general tax support, reasonable limits on what we pay for and cheaper medical procedures can solve the problem.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why a Perfect Government Is a Bad Idea

Many people try to create the Perfect Government.  The French Revolution was a good example of this.

But the quest itself is not only doomed to failure, but a great way to ensure you have a bad government.

It reminds me of a phrase I came up with in college "The perfect screwdriver is useless if all you have is nails."  Perfection requires that you understand the purpose of the device and also have the proper materials.  

The problems with a perfect government are the materials.  A perfect government wouldn't make mistakes.  But government is made of people.  People make mistakes.

For this example, I am going to use a sword, not the screwdriver I thought of back in college.  Consider designing the perfect melee weapon.  You want a nice sharp point, plus a sharp edge.  It needs to be made of materials that can attain and maintain these factors.  It should be thin and easy to slice or pierce anything, yet strong and able to handle hard use.   Lets assume you are an incredible craftsman, capable of doing miracles.

Now try to build it out of wood.  Because you are an incredible craftsman, you build a pretty good sword.  Oh, it's not as nice as a steel one, but it's pretty sharp and pointy.

Now someone with a crappy club comes along and they break your wooden sword with a single blow.  Your sharp, thin wooden blade was a bad idea. You need to consider the materials you have when designing your device.  Same thing with Government.

People are error prone.  We make mistakes.  We have the capacity for evil.   We are ignorant.  Sometimes we are stupid.  You need to design a government that takes all of these things into account.

It is no where near the same kind of government that you would design for holy angelic beings.  But such a group wouldn't need government in the first place.

As such, the very idea of perfection becomes an impediment. By it's very nature it encourages you to forget about the fallible, imperfect humans that will have to run the government.

Instead, you need to think about building the Best Possible Government, rather than the Perfect Government. You need to concentrate on the errors themselves and how to deal with them.

Specifically, you need mechanisms to:

  1. Look for possible human errors.
  2. Confirm the issues are in fact errors.
  3. Admit them to the general population (or they will resist step 4).
  4. Fix the errors - preferably without introducing new errors.
The United States uses the Free Press to do #1, and a combination of the Court system and legislature to do #2 and #4.  We have not found a good way to do #3, which is why the courts have to fix so many of the errors instead of having the legislature fix them on their own.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Advice for Anti-Discrimination Movements

Anti-discrimination movements come with two possible goals:

  1. Stop identified future discrimination
  2. Fixing past transgressions
As a good Jewish boy, I am proud to say that Jews always cared more about stopping future discrimination than payback.  Probably because we've been a minority for so long.   We had a country, lost it to the Romans, but managed to maintain our cultural identity and religion.   Granted, woman have been discriminated against for longer than us, but they were never outnumbered as badly as we were.   Despite this, we demanded rights to enter country clubs, equal treatment in employment, equal treatment in politics, and many other places.  For the most part we achieved our goals.  Oh, there is still some antisemitism, but but it we have had major successes, and aside from moronic "War on Christmas" stuff, there is little 'push back'.

Feminism and anti-racism movements have had much more push back.  By that I mean there are people that claim to be fine with women, but not with feminists, and people fine with black people, but against affirmative action.  In some circles that agree that women should get equal pay for equal work, feminism has a bad name.   Similarly, we are in the rather strange position of having the conservatives shouting for race-blind admissions/hiring in order to stop affirmative action.  It wasn't that long ago that the liberals were clamoring for race-blind admissions/hiring to stop racism.  Isn't our side the one that doesn't care about race?

Part of the problem is that people that have been discriminated against have been treated so incredibly poorly.  They don't just want to cease further discrimination, they want to be fairly compensated for past injuries.  They don't merely want to end discrimination, they want to 'make it right'. 

It can't be done.  No amount of money, no amount of legally mandated compensation can ever make up for past discrimination.

Another issue is that as we end certain prejudicial practices, we find that other indirect discrimination continues, and we try to find ways to stop them.  Some black people live in poverty because their parents were discriminated against.  Some women cut their careers short because they choose to have a child and the fathers don't do the same.  While these problems are indirectly the result of prejudice, they are not directly caused by it.  There are many ways that the race and genders are treated differently, and while sometimes women benefit (compare ticket vs warning records for speed traps), sometimes men do. 

But attempting to stop indirect prejudice doesn't help.  You can't balance things exactly, anymore than you could fix past issues.

Instead, what happens is you just generate push-back.  You see what you consider to be 'just compensation', they consider to be reverse discrimination affecting the children and grandchildren of the people actually responsible for the discrimination.  I'm not saying it is reverse discrimination, I'm saying it feels like that to them.

They feel just as bad about the 'just compensation' as the original race/gender felt about the original discrimination.   This is why I have previously posted against affirmative action but in favor of anti-poverty action.  In a perfect world, we would have affirmative action.   But in this imperfect world, it causes more problems than it solves.  Which is why I think we need to change affirmative action to a race-blind anti-poverty program.  It would stop the push-back from the conservatives, and allow us to do more good.

I generally hate the phrase "get over it'.   It basically means the speaker admits wrongs have been done and they don't care about fixing.  So I'm not going to say it. Instead I am going to go with Bill Clinton's famous words:

"I feel your pain."

I wish we could solve those issues, but we can't - we can only make them worse by perpetuating a culture of hate.   The more we try to demand pay-back, the more they try to undue our righteous actions.  My advice to all anti-discrimination movements of any kind is to forget about trying to make things perfect.  You can't get real payback, as all you get is real push-back.

What you can do is end the current discrimination and ensure the future will be free of more discrimination.  That is the best we can hope for.

Honestly, it's not a bad a goal.   

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

GOP 2012 Party Platform Translated.

You can read the full (and very long) GOP platform here.

1.  The economy.  (aka lower taxes)

Job Creation, Small Business, Tax Relief, American Competition, and Balancing the Budget are all translated as  Lower Taxes on the wealthy, cut social programs like medicare, medicaid and social security.

Inflation,Housing crisis, Infrastructure means regulation is bad, we need to cut it.  Oh, and they also want to create these other things that regulate the market - but only for the 'good things'.  In other words, they want to let Republicans regulate, not Democrats.

Re-education - close all 47 federal retraining programs and give the money to the states.  Because we all know that government is bad.  Too bad that small government (aka states) is always more suspectible to fraud and waste than large government.

"Freedom in the Workplace" means controlling labor unions.  Here they have some points, I see no reason why Labor Unions can't work with secret ballots.   But on the other hand, it is perfectly reasonable for the government to continue to insist on Union Labor to get things done.  You may get higher costs, but you also get higher quality.

2.   Constitutional Government (aka gays are evil)

They admit that discrimination is evil - bat least if it is based on sex, race, age, religion, creed, disability or national origin.   They conspicuously leave out sexual orientation - as in, they are quite happy discriminating against gays.  They also oppose the creation of any NEW race-based governments within the United States.  They are apparently fine with existing (presumably white) ones.

Restoration of Constitution - another insult that claims the constitution has been abandoned.  Note they are fine with amending the Constitution (specifically they are quite happy replacing the national Income Tax - 16th Amendment with a National Sales Tax.)

While the are for the restoration of the US Constitution, they are unhappy when US courts declare that under the US Constitution, marriage can include gays.    (See anti-gay discrimination above.)  They are frankly unhappy with what the US Courts says the Constition is.  In other words, they are all for the Constition, but only if they get to say what it means.  Note that they consistently object to the rulings of judges appointed by conservative presidents as well as those made by Democrats.  They don't trust their own people.

What's really going on here is that they personally want to re-write the Constitution to satisfy their particular political beliefs, and failing that, replace all the Judges with GOP die hards.  Specifically, they want to re-write it as a very strict Jeffersonian tradition, ignoring Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, George Washington and all the other Hamiltonian founders.

Their favorite amendment is the 10th:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

They also like the 2nd (bear arms).

But they really, truly HATE the following:  The 9th (the rights given are examples, not the limits, i.e. no strict interpretation), 14th ( equal protection clause), 15th (voting rights for race/color),  the 16th (taxes), the 19th (without female suffrage, the GOP would win the election),  the 24th (no poll taxes).  In general, they often seem to dislike parts of the 1st amendment (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press).  Among other examples they dislike the freedom to disrespect our flag.

They like Voter ID but do not not want to disenfranchise military men.  This of course implies (and the courts later ruled that it is unconstitutional) that they do want to disenfranchise non-military voters. 

They are fine with having the government protect religious freedom of the churches, but not in favor of protecting the religious freedom of the lay people and non-religious people..  I quote:   'We condemn the hate campaigns, threats of violence, and vandalism by proponents of same-sex marriage against advocates of traditional marriage and call for a federal investigation into attempts to deny religious believers their civil rights"

But they make no mention at all of actual violence and vandalism against gays by the advocates of traditional marriage.  Again see the 'gays are evil' line for this section.

They also brought abortion into this section, trying to apply the constitutional protections to them. This is despite the fact that they are not yet American citizens (no birth certificate).

3.  Energy, and the Environment

They want more coal, the single most polluting, most expensive if it's cleaned up, cheapest if you leave it dirty energy source.  They want to ease the EPA's regulations on coal, despite the fact that the rules for coal are EASIER than any other energy source  Coal can dump their radioactive waste - uranium and thorium - anywhere (which they do) while nuclear power plants must expensively store it.

They want to build pipelines to let Canada ship natural gas through US ports and sell it to foreign countries as opposed to selling it to northern US states.  (Keystone).  They want to cut research and investment money on 'risky' renewable energy - despite the fact that money spent there has in general been a huge windfall for this country and the environment.

They want to save 'family farms', and to do so are quite willing to spend huge amounts of money.  Most of which goes to farm corporations.  They have the resources to investigate and participate in the bureaucratic process.  (Source).   They do want to end direct payments and increase crop insurance - a good idea.   They also want take our national forests and destroy them.  (ignore environmental rules and steal their water).     They want to turn food stamps into block grants to states 'to stop fraud and abuse', despite the fact that the states are FAR more likely to engage in fraud and abuse. 

Most importantly, they want to 'reign in the EPA'.   Aka let corporations try new things, and then clean up their mistakes instead of preventing them in the first place.

4. Reform Government.

When they say "Save Medicare and Medicaid" they mean replace their defined benefit with a defined contribution.  Translation:  stop saying what health issues the government will treat and instead say "here's x amount of money, once you hit it, you die."  But they don't want the blame for such an evil plan, so they want to hand it off to the states.   Such plans are fiscally sound, but ethically evil.   Defined contribution works great if you are talking about a supplemental or luxury, such as a personal retirement plan.  It sucks as your minimum government protection or last ditch backstop, such as social security.  

The also want to change regulations.  Specifically no new ones until the existing ones have passed muster.  But we have seen how the GOP works - they delay and filibuster and refuse to make progress (which is why Obama has to redo the EPA regulations that Bush refused to redo after the courts ordered him to do it.  This is just shorthand for "no new regulations, no matter how badly we need them."   If you want to review the old regulations, fine.  But there is no good reason to stop new ones.  If we can't be trusted to make new regulations, then we can't be trusted to review the old ones.

They want to declare that no business is too big to fail.   Well, I'm OK with that.  But that is actually code for "No INDUSTRY is too big to fail."  Which is an entirely different thing.  If an entire industry is failing, then we have bigger problems than just a single corporation going bankrupt.  We need to protect our key industries and not allow foreign corporations to take over our finances the way they took over our clothing manufacturing.

They want private industry to take over from the TSA.  This is a good idea.   The TSA, as I have discussed in the past, are the single least cost effective agency in the US government.

Immigration.  Not sure why this came under 'reform'.   Again they are in favor of a 'state' led approach, despite the obvious problems with that.   They are against amnesty, even for kids illegally brought in by their parents, who never knew they were not citizens.  They then bring up American Indians, because of course, every single person that is not an American Indian is in fact an illegal immigrant that invaded their lands.  They gave a bunch of platitudes and little facts.

DC.  They give several paragraphs about DC - all talking about how they have pushed republican programs on the state.  Then one sentence stating "We oppose statehood for the District of Columbia."  They give no explanation for this.  In truth they know that Washington DC as a state would give the Democrats two new Senators and one new Congressman.  It is just partisan politics, without any attempt to disguise it.  Surprisingly, later on they do support Puerto Rico becoming a state.  They do this based on the fact that Hispanics tend to be conservative.  But they don't realize that Hispanics, while conservative, vote Democrat.   This is because the GOP is no longer a conservative party, but is a far right reactionary party.

Civil Service.  They talk about the the civil service growing by 140,000, without discussing the fact that it has about 2 million people before this growth. (Source).  Seven percent growth during a recession is not unusual.  Then they complain that the number making $150,000 or more has doubled - without mentioning what it is.  If it were 20 people and now 40 people, that is not important.  By saying it next to 140,000 it implies that it is thousands.  But more importantly, the reason why the pay is that high is because we have outsource the cheap jobs and ONLY hire people directly for important jobs.

5. American  Values.
Pro- family is code for anti-gay.  They want to protect traditional marriage, while the DNC wants to protect marriage.  They like adoption and foster care, but have no plan for it (aside from ill defined tax claims).  Internet family friendly  means no gambling and to eliminate pornography.  They applaud effort to stop predators from seeking children - by private corporations, but don't want to spend have the government do more (aside from enforcing current laws).

Another big thing is anti-abortion.  They want the federal government to ban it, and failing that, to ban funding for it and for plans that cover it.

Repeal Obamacare.  Not sure why this is in American Values.    They want to replace it with  by 'fostering personal responsibility'.  Translation let them die, the smart ones will get healthcare.  Don't believe me?  They also say "To achieve a free market in healthcare..."  Free markets have winners and losers.  In healthcare, the losers are kept in a morgue.  They want Health Savings Accounts and similar financial services.   These in effect make health care tax free, but do not give you protection from the big-ticket stuff.  In other words, they are band aids for the booboos, but don't do anything at all for the nasty deadly stuff.

They are all for research, as long as it is not stem cell research.   They  are desperately in favor of protecting the political views of the health care providers, but not the lives of the patients.   Patients should come first.

They are all for parental rights, but not child rights.  They also like Embryo rights.  So if you are 17 and 2 months, they want the right to prevent you from getting an abortion.

They want to destroy the public school system by switching to a voucher program giving government money to religious schools. Schools that because they are religious, can object to teaching important scientific facts  (evolution, climate change, etc.) that are necessary for college.

In crime, they make unfounded statements such as "Liberals do not understand this simple axiom: criminals behind bars cannot harm the general public."  We do recognize that.  But we also recognize that most criminals do NOT repeat offend and that prison costs are skyrocketing out of control.  We simply can not afford to incarcerate so many people, particularly for minor offenses.  They talk about gang members, drug dealers, rapists, armed robbers and murders, not the drug users, petty thieves, joy riders, and public disorder (second biggest type of offense in federal prison).  They also want to prevent federal agencies from defining things as criminals.  As in, no more arrests for dumping uranium into your water supply, because that's an EPA thing, not a 'criminal thing'.

6.  American Exceptionalism.

This entire category is just plain strange.  Most of the earlier stuff talks about reducing the roll of American government, this is all about increasing it.    Strong military in particular.

They think to lead means to be arrogant and are mad that Obama has been polite as opposed to pissing off all of our allies, the way George Bush did.  They are all for reducing our budget - except when Obama reduced our military budget by less than $50 billion a year.  Now they are claim they are trying to avoid $500 billion from the sequestration process the GOP insisted on during the budget talks, as opposed to a fair balance of tax increases and budget reductions.  They refuse to take any responsibility for it, despite it clearly being the only compromise they were willing to do. 

They blame President Obama for leaks leaks in security,not even acknowledging that a high Bush official (Libby) gave out the name of top secret CIA agent for political purposes.  At the same time, they continue to lie about the President, claiming he is weak, despite the leaks they say were done to prove him strong.  You can't have it both ways.

They talk about the reductions Obama has advocated, ignoring the fact that the US has more than 40% of the entire world's military budget and spends more than four times as much as China does - and they are number 2, Russia is #3 and spends about 1/10th as much as we do. (source) It is the obvious place to cut, yet for all their demands to reduce spending, they refuse to cut it.

The military section is very long with lots of vague complaints - no evidence, just slander.  Among other things they repeat wild stories of attempts to ban bibles from the military, ignoring official complaints of soldiers forced to pray.  They talk about honoring veterans, while at the same time cutting entitlements to veterans.

When they mention Human Rights all they talk about is religious freedom.  They object to efforts to legalize abortion in foreign countries. When it comes to homosexual rights in Africa, they object that we spend money on it - despite the fact that in some countries they kill you for being gay.


Net net, they have four main themes:
  1. Lower taxes - even if we can't afford to do this and it makes the deficit go up.
  2. Balance the Budget by cutting spending on things Democrat wants (but not GOP programs), and call the Democrat ideas 'over-regulation', while the GOP programs get labelled 'necessary and effective' (even when they are proven in-effective - see creationism)
  3. They hate homosexuals.
  4. Abortion is evil and should be treated like murder.

If you agree with these four themes, I suggest you vote Republican.

But most Americans do not believe them.  We recognize that you have to pay more taxes to keep the deficit under control, that most programs are demanded by the people, not wasteful, the homosexuals are good people and abortion is not murder.  If you agree with me, then:

Vote for Democrats.

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to Create a Silicon Valley for Artists.

My last post talked about how hard work alone does not create jobs and that therefore you can not buy new jobs with tax breaks.  That only works with effort based work, not creative work.

Creating jobs is creative work, duh.
Here is one idea on how to encourage creativity, at least in the art world.  Note it costs money, but it is not focused on a reward based system.   Create an "Art Dormitory".   I thought of it while trying to use the military as a model for non-military organizations.  Don't try to pay for good art.  If you have too many applicants, pick the most innovative artist.  Build/buy a group house, then offer it to artists in exchange for a monthly work of art.  Give them a one year lease, renewable for up to 10 years.  Make it clear that the guy with the worst art will be voted out at the end of the year, think Reality TV show, but without the TV and only one guy gets cut a year.  Say you house 20 artists, in one year you end up with 20*12= 240 paintings/drawings. 

Now, the living space should be relatively small.  Studio apartments, with a large shared artistic space to create art.  The idea is to get only people that truly love art, but not to keep people that have made it.  You want some turnover.   It should basically be cheap military grade housing and food.

Five years after year each resident enters the Art dormitory,  have the house offer to sell the five second best pieces of art from each artist.  Keep all the rest, particularly the single best piece.   Save them as an investment.

The idea is that ten years after you started, if you are at all competent selecting artists, you will have at least one famous artist.  Sales of his work could fund the dormitory, but it may make sense to keep his stuff and sell the second most famous artist's work..  If it works well, we can even pay for food, etc.  It can end up as a kind of art commune.   If it works very well, it can expand into other cities.

Yes, this is a bit socialistic - after all I based it on the military model, and the military is (as per their own analysis) one of the most socialistic organizations in the US.  So are Labor Unions and Families.   The question is - will it create more and better art?

Could you do something similar for job creation?   We do, it's called 'pure research' when done at a university and 'Product Development' if it's done at a corporation.  We fund multiple scientists, keeping their work, and when it pans out, we get new jobs.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lower Taxes Means The Same Number Of Jobs

One of the GOP's core principles is that lower taxes means more jobs.  They make this claim repeatedly and without any evidence.  They try to use the words 'job creators' when discussing the wealth, despite the fact that majority of wealthy do not create jobs, (at least not in America), they often destroy them by outsourcing.

This principle is based on the assumption that if you pay people more, they do a better job.  It's not that hard to understand, and most people believe it to be true.  In fact is true for most of human history for most jobs.   The entire reason why communism failed is that they did not understand that most people do most jobs better if they are paid extra for better work.  The core jobs you need to maintain a civilization all get more done if you offer real rewards for hard work.

But not for all jobs.  If you offer more rewards and bonus pay for certain jobs, you get worse results.

I know what you are thinking - that crazy liberal does not know what he is talking about.  Well, I didn't come up with it.  The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States and the London School of Economics did.

I heard it from Dan Pink.  You can read more about this  best selling author and reluctant graduate of Law school here (personal web page).  He explains it quite well in this TED Talk.   If you have some time, I suggest you watch it. But I'm going to hit the high points of his talk and expand on it.

The studies by the Federal Reserve Bank and the London School of Economics found that for many of the best jobs paying people a reward or bonus fails to get them to work harder.  It's not that hard to understand.

Work can easily be divided into two forms*:
  1. Effort Work
  2. Creative Work 
*Note, this are generalizations - most jobs contain a mix of both types of work - but one predominates.
Effort work is anything where direct effort increases results.  If you dig a ditch, build a building, cut diamonds, clean a house, repair a car, etc. you are doing 'effort work'.  The more effort you put in, the more work you get done and/or the better quality.    The key thing here is there is a direct connection between effort and the result.  If you do more work, you get more done.  

Financial incentives do wonders for effort work. 

But creative work is different.  Working harder does not get more done for creative work.  Sometimes, the best work takes the least effort and sometimes more effort and work destroy the product.  Compare how well a movie with one script writer does to one with 20 script writers.  They put all that extra effort in and the end result is to turn an OK script into a horrible one.
I am a writer, it is one of the most creative work around.   Putting in more time does not always give me more writing, and it definitely does not give me better writing.   Why?  Because most of what you write is crap.  It needs to be edited, re-done, thrown out and restarted, re-examined.  Then when it is all done, it still doesn't matter.   Then sometimes I will come up with a brilliant idea and it just flows out of me as if God on high is using me to send a message to the world.  My best work takes less time and effort, not more. 

The point is, you can not beat, let alone join the ranks of Shakespeare, Twain,  Kipling, Heinlein, Hemingway, Tolstoy,  Virgil, Homer, Ovid, Orwell, Cervantes, Tolkien, Dante, and Kafka simply by buckling down and working harder.

In addition, we don't write for money.  No one does - the odds of making money writing are so low it is ridiculous.  Too many people willing to do it for free.   For example, this website is free.  The few things I have published (magazine article, etc) paid practically nothing.  Also, making it big has as much to do with luck as skill.  If the right person reads this blog and likes it, it could be turned into a column.  If not, it stays undiscovered.

Financial rewards work very well - for straightforward solutions.  Digging a ditch is a straightforward problem.  If you pay the guy more he can do it faster or better (don't expect both - it can be done, but it's a more creative event).   I write this blog because I NEED to tell the world these things.  If I didn't have paper or computers I would be expounding on them to all my friends and family, driving them insane with a constant talk about politics.  Some posts no one reads - but that's OK - someday, thousands of years from now, a historian will find and marvel at my prose...)

Does that mean I don't want money?  No.  I do.  If I was paid for writing, I could write more - but mainly because I could quit my day job and have more time to write.  But it's not my only motivation, nor even the most important one.  Why not? Well, creativity is undependable.  You can't rely on it.  So if you need money you must find other sources for it.  Your money related needs have to get met outside of creativity.

Financial rewards don't help creative work.  The harder you try to be creative, the less creative you become.   You end up putting out the same old junk.  To be creative, you must play.  You must look at thousand other things not related to the issue and just maybe one of those random things will trigger an idea.  You need to familiarize yourself with the problem, then, while keeping it in the back of your mind, just go out and explore the world.  You can't do that if in the back of your mind there is a voice saying "If I do a good job I will be able to afford that car that is also a boat."  Creativity is not about working harder, it's about relaxing and thinking about everything else.  This lets you make new and strange connections.

Paying people for success simply does not work with creative jobs.  In fact, I would suggest doing the opposite.  If I wanted to get a lot of creative ideas out of some employees, I would not pay them for the best one.  Instead I would pay a small reward for the craziest idea.  This would free people up to think 'outside the box'. (Note I consider that cliche to be almost an oxymoron because using it is now about as 'inside the box' as you can get.)  But I would not use the craziest one.  I would ignore them and re-work the best idea into something I could use. 

So the question is what kind of work is job creation.  Is it effort work, where there is a direct connection?  Or creative work where there isn't?  Running your own business is definitely effort work.  You need to work your a$$ off, twenty-four seven.  The more effort you put in, the better a result.  But creating jobs is different from running your business - you can do either without doing the other.

Merely working hard either:

  1. Steals employees from other businesses.  By doing it better than your competition you steal their sales and having to hire new people to handle the sales - but they have to fire people because they lost the sales.
  2. Destroys one or more jobs because you yourself are doing the same work of several people
  3. Destroys one or more jobs by doing more efficient work, so less employees are needed.
To actually create new jobs rather than redistribute them from other companies requires you to either:

  1. Creates a new product, thereby creating new demand and new sales that didn't exist before.
  2. Engage in creative marketing that increases sales of an existing product rather than merely steal your competitor's clients. Also know as an Advertising Campaign.  It helps if you come up with new uses for your product/service, but that isn't as important as the Advertising.
  3. Convince people your product is worth more money - and pay some extra employees with the extra cash - presumably for making a better product.  Think Starbucks vs diner coffee. Again, this requires an Advertising Campaign and again, you don't actually need to make it higher quality - remember Starbucks.

Creating new jobs is clearly "Creative Work". That's why it's called 'creating new jobs', as opposed to 'efforting new jobs'. If it were effort work, it would be done already.  George Bush, or Obama would buckle down (or hire someone to buckle down), and create 10 million jobs.

This means that higher rewards, aka less taxes, will not create more new jobs.   Not if you pay a government employee to create jobs, not if you give the 'job creators' tax incentives, not if you pay them directly for each new job.  It simply does not work that way.   Creative work can not be increased by financial rewards, at least not according to London School of Economics.

Of course, taxes and other penalties can kill jobs.   But generally only if the taxes and penalties are incredibly onerous.   Once your taxes and penalties are reasonable, then lowering them more will not give you more jobs.  The United States is already at that point.   Other places may need to eliminate onerous taxes and penalties, but not the USA.   We can even increase taxes a small amount - say 3%.

Because if more pay meant more jobs, we would already have paid the price.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Obama is winning the election but losing the undecided

Romney has a two point lead over Obama among the undecided (source), but is likely to lose.
Sounds a bit strange, right?  Aren't elections won by the undecided?

The truth is, this happens quite a lot.  Studies show that incumbents usually lose the 'undecided' vote, (source), but incumbents usually win the election.  Quite frankly, undecided usually don't matter.

One of the main things that is going on is that the Democrats have a lot more strong supporters than the Republicans do.   But that's not all, there are other things going on as well.  Lets talk about the three other factors.

Here's what is going on.

  1. The undecided tend to reside in states that don't matter as much.
  2. The undecided don't vote.
  3. Undecided does not mean independent.  You can be an Obama/Romney supporter and not be a registered member of a political party. You can be also be a registered Republican/Democrat, and be undecided.

First of all, most states are already set.   (If the election has not happened yet, check the map on the upper right of this page. )   Of the 50 US states, only nine are really up for grabs.  Oh, a couple more are long shots, but frankly if they go 'the unexpected way', many other states will as well, so they don't really matter.  Frankly,if Obama wins Florida and any single other undecided state, even New Hampshire (only 4 electoral votes), then he wins the election.  So as a practical matter, how the undecided people vote in Texas, Calliforina, New York, Louisiana, etc. will not affect this election.

In fact, you are more likely to call yourself an 'undecided' in one of those states than in other states.  It's hard to admit that you are a Democrat if you live in a rural Texas county.  Almost worse than being a Yankee.   Similarly, it's hard to admit to being a Republican in the Bronx.  On the other hand, if you live in a swing state, like Florida, you are BOMBARDED with political ads. People work really hard at moving you one way or the other, and often they succeed.  If you are undecided in New York State, no one cares.  The state is going for Obama no matter what you vote.  If you are undecided in Florida, they work you over like food to starving people.  As a result, people stay undecided in the states that don't matter, but not so much in swing states.

But more importantly:
The conservatives vote.
The liberals vote.

The undecided people stay home.

The trick is not to get the undecided to marginally favor your candidate, as the recent polls show.  No,.  To get them to vote, you usually have to move them from marginally in favor of your candidate to strongly in favor of him.  That's a big push.   They don't make voting easy, particularly not in swing states.  You don't get a day off from work, there are long lines, some states may require photo ID's, etc. etc.  If you are not a strong supporter, why bother?

Finally the difference between undecided and independent voter is big.   When people say undecided, it doesn't mean you aren't a registered Democrat or Registered Republican.  (Source)

Let's get into the nitty-gritty numbers.  In a recent poll, they found:
15% were Strong Democrats. 16% were Moderate Democrats, 1% were Democrats but unknown Intensity.    Total 32% core Democrats.

But only 9% were strong Republicans, 14% moderate Republicans, None were Republican of unknown intensity.  Total only 23% core Republicans.  This was a 9% less core Republicans than Democrats.  More than enough to counter the 'undecided'.

That's a total of 32+23=55% of the population described themselves as partisans.  Leaving 45% as independents.  Lets talk about the independents. 

There were 12% Independents but leaning Democrat, and 4% lean Democratic but belong to a third party (or 'none').  Another likely 16% Obama votes, for a total of 47% - after accounting for rounding.

On the other side, there were 12% Independents leaning Republican plus another 6% third party people leaning Republican.  This makes for another 18% Romney voters, which is  +4 over the Independents leaning Democrat.  Totall everything up and 47% leaning Democrat vs 41% leaning Republican.

But for our discussion, not that is 16+18 = 34% of the people described themselves as independents but not undecided. 

In addition to the 88% that leaned one way or the other, we have 6% Independents that don't lean any way, 5% that are third party that don't lean any way, and another 3%  are actually planning on voting for a third party candidate.   (Yes, this comes out to 102% total - like I said before, rounding errors.)

That's only about 14% or so independents (probably closer to 12% given the rounding issues)  that are actually undecided.   

Undecided Voters are definitely valuable.  But you need a LOT of undecided voters to shift an election. 

Like I said previously, elections are not just about convincing undecided voters to vote for you, but also about convincing your own supporters to come out and vote and to convince your opponents base to stay home.  Obama looks like he has strong support among Democrats and there are more Democrats than Republicans. That is why Obama is going tow in the election.