Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Progessive vs. Liberal

Recently, the scariest Republican (Marco Rubio, who is a likely 2017 GOP candidate - and possibly the strongest one) made this statements:

"How do you know Americans are majority conservative?’ Here’s why: How come liberals never admit that they are liberals? They never admit it. They’ve now come up with a new word called progressive, which I thought was an insurance company, but apparently it’s a label." (Source) 

Well, first of all, the Gallop's pole most populous category is moderate, at 35%.   If you combine the extremes, you get 40% conservative or very conservative, 21% liberal or very liberal plus 4% no answer.  Even them, 40% is not a majority.  It is only if you force moderates to choose between liberal or conservative that you get most are conservative.  The conservatives would like to do this, claiming that moderates are just weak conservatives, but I disagree.  Most Americans simply don't give a crap either way - which is why voter turn out is so low.  The moderates lean towards conservatism because of peer pressure and slander from the conservatives.  But they honestly, truly consider themselves MODERATE - or more likely "I don't give a crap".

Second of all, it is NOT true that liberals never admit they are liberal.  Here: I AM LIBERAL.   Done.  Rubio is wrong.  Lots of liberals admit - just ask Bernie Sanders (only actual socialist in Congress - not a Democrat).

Third, the GOP party is not conservative, but is instead far right, zealously conservative.  The Democrat party is middle of the road - including some liberals and some conservatives.  As per Gallop (Source), 16% of the DNC are conservatives, 4% are VERY conservative.  Note only 1 % of Republicans call themselves very liberal and 3% call themselves liberal.  = while a full 20% of Republicans call themselves "Very Conservative"  These are self-identified - so chances are many conservatives are really very conservative and many liberals are very liberal.  SIXTEEN percent is a large amount, not a small one.

I have a theory about the 'progressives' in the DNC.  You see, there are certain members of the Democratic party that don't like being called liberals.  Remember those conservative Democrats? Unlike the GOP, the DNC is a diversified party.  What do you do if you are a conservative and running for office in the Democratic party.  You can't claim to be liberal - you know you aren't. So do the voters.  You can't claim to be conservative, that will turn away many of the Democrat voters.  So you claim you are a PROGRESSIVE.

I repeat - Progressives are conservative members of the Democrat Party
Now this blows the GOP's mind.  They refuse to admit that the DNC has true conservatives - they insist that only the GOP can have conservatives, mainly because they are elitist, while the DNC is into diversification.  More about that in my next post

OK, now President Obama calls him self a 'progressive', and, as per Political Compass, Obama is and always has been conservative:  (Evidence in 2012 and Evidence from 2008).

Look at what he did - his major accomplishments are:  1) Killing Bin Laden, 2) Following George Bush's lead in the bailout, 3) Following George Bush's stated schedule for the pull outs from Iraq and Afghanistan, 4) Not managing to end Guantanamo Bay OR do civilian trials, 5) Basing his healthcare bill on Romney's healthcare plan.

Obama is a conservative.   As are most of the members of the DNC that call themselves Progressive.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Santorum's Defense vs Entitelement Spending

Recently, my favorite Second-Place (in both the primary and the general) candidate (Rick Santorum) gave two interesting statements:

1)  "When I was born, less than 10 percent of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60 percent of the budget."

2) "When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget.  It's now 17 percent.  (Defense source)

First of all, most of the numbers he quoted were too low.  Some in his favor, but the 1958 entitlement number is significantly not in his favor.  As per, he was very wrong about the entitlement % in 1958, it was 25.4% not 10%.  (Entitlement Source) 

Second, he said 'entitlement' that includes pensions for every government employee - including pensions for generals.  But that is a small portion of the entitlement plan.

Thirdly, the real point is that most of what Santorum called "entitlement" is composed of Social Security.  Social Security, despite the lies put out by the GOP, is still solvent, and with minor changes (either what I want: increase the tax to apply to all income, not just the first 106k  OR [not both] increasing retirement age by just two years,will be solvent for the foreseeable future.)  But he appears to want to cut it.

The next two big "Entitelement" programs are Medicare and Medicaid.   Now Medicare and Medicaid are in trouble, we need a better way to pay for them and/or to hold the line on costs.  They are about 24% total, split pretty much down the middle at 12% each.

But let's take a look at entitlements, excluding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicare.

Well, Social Security is about 20% of the total Federal budget and Medicare and Medicaid are each another 12%  (as per Wikipedia, so hopefully it's accurate - but the government itself has confirmed that both together are 24%) (Source).

So lets compare 1958 without social security (Santorum's birth year) to 2011 without the big three (social security, medicaid, and medicare.

When he was born, the budget was 56.8% defense, 25.4%  Entitlement.
Currently, the budget is 19.6% defense, 65.1% Entitlement, (including 20% social security, 12% medicaid, 12% medicare, plus 21.1% for other entitlements), plus another 15.3% for stuff besides defense and entitlements.

Ignoring the big three, Defense becomes 24.5%, Entitlements become 26.4%
Using the those numbers, entitlements have risen 1%, while defense has dropped about 22%.  Entitlements up 1%  not a big deal if you ask me.   The defense drop is mainly do to getting out of Vietnam and no longer doing a cold war. 

So, Santorum is complaining about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.   For some reason, I don't think he is going to win any friends cutting Social Security and Medicare.  He is probably smart enough know this.

So that brings us to Medicaid.  Wow, a Republican complaining about spending money on healthcare for the poor.  Sound familiar?

The costs for Medicaid (and Medicare) have risen in line with other health care costs.  The problem is not and never has been government waste.  Instead it is the simple fact that we are developing new and expensive ways to provide healthcare.

Why is it expensive?

1)  In recent years, we have been finding a lot of treatments, not that many cures.  Partly because treatments pay a steady stream for the patients life, but cures are a one shot deal.

2)  Medicine continues to be a human intensive business.  Automation is not used or trusted.  We can't (or won't) automate surgery, examination (diagnosis - think House) or nurse work. 

3)  Pharmaceutical companies pay huge amounts of money to research new drugs - then demand huge amounts of money for their use, giving the research expenses as an excuse/reason.  

Putting limits on the pharmaceutical would be difficult in a free market economic system.    But we can try to automate medicine some.  Nursing is almost as much of the problem as doctors, except instead of one person getting paid 6 figures, we have 10 people getting paid 5 figures.  Both deserve their pay, but we need to find a way to limit our need for them.

More importantly, we let research companies get away with treatment instead of cure.  I propose a simple rule - if you create an expensive treatment, your patent protection is half as long as currently.  Leave the patent for cures as is.  We want the companies to work more on cures than on treatments and they are already too expensive.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What I would actually do

I have talked about how a lot of other people's plans are flawed.  I have even offered an over-the top example of how to counter the Conservative flat tax -plan.  But I haven't mentioned what I would really do.

Well, here it is.  This is what I would do if I was in charge of the Congress.  Note I said in charge of Congress, not President.  Because the President doesn't have all that much power to enact any of what I am going to talk about:  Note, I am open to changes, but these ideas would be the core of what I would do.  A lot of it has to do with taxes and spending, because that is our current biggest problem.

  1. Make Social Security taxes uncapped.  I.E.  You pay SS tax on every dollar you earn, not just the first $106k or so.  This basically solves the Social Security funding problem.
  2. Lower capital gain tax to 10%  - phase this in over 1 year.  (But see #4)
  3. Eliminate all corporate taxes completely.  The corporations pay too much money to lobbying avoid paying taxes anyway.  Again, phase this in over 3 years.   (But see #4)
  4. Put in new yearly a 4% Asset Tax on all assets owned by any American citizen over $100,000, with large exemptions.  The exemptions would be: any real estate owned in the USA or territories, tax free bonds, and anything owned in a Retirement account (IRA, ROTH IRA, Pension Plan, 401K, etc.).  Yes, that includes private corporations.  If you own a corporation, you pay taxes 4% of that corporation's value every year.   Note, unlike #2 and #3, there is no phase in.  Public corporations will be valued at the public price.  Private corporations will be set by the owner using any of several legal methods - but such valuations will be published and the owner must accept any offer of 30% higher than that value - or revalue their company to the new price and pay back on the new amount for the past 3 years.
  5. Legalize and federally recognize gay marriage throughout this country.
  6. Require any hospital that accepts medicare or medicaid to offer abortions.  Religious run hospitals will get an exemption and no doctor will be required to perform it, but the hospital must have the facilities available and find a doctor willing to come there and provide an abortion.  No more attempts to marginalize abortion providers.
  7. Encourage inflation to waver between 4% and 8%.  If it is below 4%, let it rise if it is doing even acceptably. This gives us the room to lower inflation when it is doing poorly.
  8. Make the Medicare tax (FICA) progressive.  Currently it is 1.45% for all, plus another 1.45% for the employer.  Keep that for everyone making $100k or less.  Raise it to 2% (plus another 2% for the employer) if you make over $100k.  Note if you are self-employed, you pay both the employee and the employer part.
  9. Make Medicare SECONDARY health insurance to anything privately provided instead of primary.  That is, if you work for a company and they offer health care, their insurance pays first, then Medicare rather than the other way around.  
  10. Require all organizations accepting donations for political purposes to report those donations and who donated the money within one week.   If one organization donates to another, it must report the names of every person that had any control over the decision making process and to describe where they get their money.
  11. Broker a deal between the NRA giving them a federal concealed carry license in exchange for all hand guns being sold in the USA having:  a) a test bullet fired for ballistic identification purposes (which is entered into a federal database) and b) a legal requirement for any one selling a gun to get the name and photo of the purchaser.   The original manufactures must  report the name and photo to the government, but anyone else has the choice of either reporting it or keeping personal copies of that information.   Failure to keep a copy results in a permanent bar from purchasing or selling any additional guns.
  12. Sell Greencards via an auction.  (Set to adjust each year to be equal to 4% of the country's citizen population).  Allow any states that wish to apply a penalty tax for greencard employees - of any amount from 0 to 70%.   Watch the states rush to eliminate that tax.
  13. Treat Marijuana like Alcohol. Alcohol is a lot worse in every measure - including acting as a 'gateway drug'.
  14. Expressly make it a felony for a police officer to destroy any recording of a police man or for a District Attorney to fail to press charges against a police officer that has destroyed such a recording.  Destroying evidence is a crime and should not be ignored.
  15. Declare any arbitration clause invalid unless an attorney paid for by all people signing the contract also signed the contract.   You can't sign away rights you didn't know you had.
  16. Declare that all contractual licenses must have an expiration date no greater than 10 years (no renewals guaranteed in the contract) - unless each side has a paid lawyer review and approves it.  Anything more than that is a sale disguised as a license.
  17. Create a Pollution Tax on anything that generates C02 or other pollutants.  Have the EPA calculate how much it costs to remove the pollution, then put a tax equal to 1/10th that cost. 
  18. Get us out of Afghanistan and cut back on the US's military.   Effectively declare that we need the capacity to fight one Iraq sized war, not two.  Use the savings increase foreign intelligence by 50% and to reduce the deficit. 
  19. Set up a Boarding School program specifically designed for kids with 'at risk' parents.  I.E.  Drug addicted, homeless, career criminal.
  20. Encourage competition between Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac - - and create a regulatory body aimed specifically at Collateralized Mortgage Obligations.  Those bonds will be created, they need separate regulation

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Santorum - why is he surging.

Well, first of all, I have to admit I was wrong about a couple of things.

Like everyone else for a long time I thought the GOP's position was "Anybody but Romney."  Recently however I realized the real position is "Anybody but Romney OR Ron Paul."   Ron Paul in fact was the original "anybody but" man.  I thought I should point that out. 

Next, I thought Santorum was dead - that Gingrich would be the downfall of Romney, not Santorum.  Now it looks like Santorum may beat both Romney and Gingrich.

Romney has apparently shot himself in the head when he said he didn't care about poor people.   He failed to realize that his major weakness was his wealth/low tax rate.   His situation lets Democrats control the discussion.   With Romney at the fore of the GOP, we could and would make this race about the wealthy trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.   

When Mitt said he didn't care about poor people, he demonstrated a weakness on the subject.  The GOP realized this and went looking for a new candidate.  It will take a lot for him to recover and win.   Even if he does, he will come out of the battle half beaten to death and the Democrats will pounce on him in his weakened state, focusing on those wounds.  Throw in the fact that Romney's health care plan was the basis for Obamacare, and a Romney vs. Obama election becomes would require some major strategic shifts for the GOP to win.

Santorum was the only guy left unbloodied.  Gingrich has too many ethical problems and a history of bad blood.  Ron Paul is an actual, real libertarian, which despite the GOP's PR campaign, is something conservatives absolutely HATE (How dare he think abortion should not be illegal?  How dare he talk about cutting the military budget in half - or worse - ESPECIALLY as it is the only part of the budget that is really excessive when compared to other countries!)

Santorum is a clear religious right fanatic.   Most likely he will be be strengthened by the religious majority, mainly because his clear weaknesses in a national election are also his strengths in a GOP primary.

No GOP can truly attack his hateful religious prejudices against gays, women, and god knows who else.  Not without alienating their own party and losing the GOP primary.

But the Democrats can - and will - attack Santorum for being a racist.  With Santorum as the GOP candidate, we will find out that the 2/3 of the country that thinks gay couples should have legal recognition thinks.   10% of the population is gay and in 2010, 31% of them voted Republican.  Not with Santorum on the ballot they won't.  Nor will blacks.  Nor will women (Santorum really should just shut up about women - people might forget he thinks they shouldn't be allowed to work or fight in the armed forces.)

At this point I have the say that Obama's re-election is almost guaranteed.  With the economy turning around and the best GOP candidates (Huntsman, Rubio, Christy) out of the running, they can't win.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Catholic Church, Obama and Birth Control

The USA has always had a problem with the first amendment.  Specifically, when it comes to religion. 
The part in question reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"  (The rest of the sentence deals with non-religious matters such as free press.)

 The two viewpoints basically boil down to who/what gets the legal rights.  Conservatives see it as a right of the church, while liberals see it as the right of the people. 

Conservatives generally describe it as a fairly limited restriction.  That is their can be no 'official' establishment of religion, but 'unofficial' promotion is fine.  Atheism is not a religion and get's no protection.   You can ask people to pray as long as you don't force them to pray.   Effectively, they want to guarantee the rights of each church to worship as it chooses, with no specific church gaining any advantage.  Note that they leave open whether temples and mosques get the same protections - this lets some conservatives think "they don't", while others realize the constitution gives no special advantage to christian religions.

The liberals see it as a more sweeping.  They don't allow 'unofficial' establishments of religion, atheism is protected as you can't force people to believe in a religion.   You can't even ask kids to pray.   Effectively, we want to guarantee that the government will not persecute people because of what we believe.   We specifically include all religions, even atheism.

The current issue is slightly odd.  Obama is not restricting religions or religious people.  Instead he is restricting businesses and charities owned/run by religious organizations that have non-religious employees and serve non-religious people.

SCOTUS (Supreme Court) has said that the government can make reasonable non-religious based laws and people can NOT use religion to allow them to break the law all the time.  But special exemptions are allowed for religious ceremonies. Specifically, a member of Native American Church can not grow, sell, buy or use peyote for personal enjoyment,  but they can do so for a religious purposes.  They must be registered and follow the law.

Religion gets special exemptions - but ONLY for religious purposes.  This is something that conservatives agree on.  If you ask them if an American Indian can legally sell peyote to their kids, they will say no. But for some reason they don't want to extend that same idea to christian organizations.

The real problem is what happens when a religion deliberately blurs the line between it's religious activities and non-religious activities? Churches have gone into a LOT of non-religious businesses and charities.  Private schools, wineries, hospitals all are owned by churches. Not just the catholic church - The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) own 3 universities.

Now these people are tring to use religious exemptions for their BUSINESSES, as opposed to their religions.  

Here are 7 situations, stripped of some of the confusing stuff, of 7 different levels of religious hiring.
  1. A catholic priest hires cleaning person to clean the church.
  2. A catholic priest hires an atheist cleaning person to clean the church.
  3. A catholic priest hires atheists to run a charity to give to destitute nuns.
  4. A catholic priest hires nuns to run a charity to feed the homeless (of any religion).
  5. A catholic priest hires atheists to run a charity to feed the homeless (of any religion).
  6. A catholic priest hires atheists to sell wine he made.
  7. A catholic priest buys 51% controlling interest in a winery.

Obama's position is that in situations 1-4, the church doesn't have to buy insurance that includes birth control, but in 5-7 it does. If you are employing non-believers to serve non-believers, that's no longer a religion.  You can't force them to convert to your religion and you lose most of your religious exemptions.

The Church's position is that they never have to buy insurance that includes birth control.  Not even if the priest doesn't completely own the business.   Mainly because they don't care about the law, they care about what their religion says.

At heart the conservatives see it as the church having the right not to pay for something it doesn't believe in.    The liberal view is that the church can not willing hire non-believers to do non-religious activities then say "Oh, but you have to follow our religion in your personal private life".  That's not fair.   You can't force your religion on other people - even if you employee them.

Given Obama's new ruling, where the insurance company is not allowed to charge a different amount of money for insurance that doesn't cover birth control.  Now, it is the insurance company's money that's paying for the birth control, not the church's money.  So the church's are complaining about how a vendor they use is being forced to ignore the church's beliefs..

Without the insurance then the church pays the employee and the employee pays the bill.  With the insurance, then the church pays the insurance company and the insurance company pays the bill. Either way, if the employee decides they don't agree with the church and wants the birth control, the money starts out with the church, goes through one intermediate and ends up being used to buy the birth control.

The question becomes should the church in effect be allowed to force the employee to take a minor cut in pay if they use their right to birth control or should instead the insurance company be allowed to take a small profit extra if the employees choose not to use their right to birth control?

The CHURCH that is trying to pull one over on us.  The government is being neutral.  Note we are not talking about the church paying for religious activities.  We are talking about a church running a separate non-religious business - such as a winery (or a hospital or a charity for homeless), hiring athiests, mormons, muslims and jews.

Churchs are tax free.  Business owned by a churches are not.    The further you get from religious activities, the fewer religious rights you get.  When you lose your automatic tax free status, you lose the right to object to activities that your religion objects to.

When the church hires non believers to do non-religious activities, it must obey the laws of the country.  If they can't, then don't do businesses.

Which is probably why most Catholics agree with the president.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What Santorum's victory means

First, note that Santorum is winning with low turnout.

That not only means people are not excited about him (or any of the GOP candidates), but also means that a relatively small, committed section of the GOP is making the selection.   That is the perfect formula to turn off the independent voter.  So it is not surprising that the small, committed members of the GOP are selecting Santorum, who I had thought was out of the running.

In any case, my original hypothesis that the T-Party would not allow the GOP to select a candidate that can win the general election looks like it is turning out correct.

Basically, I think that "anybody but Romney" is not just a joke, but is in fact what the GOP want.

Romney's only hope is to play off the Santorum voters against Gingrich, till the convention, then make at the end to get the nomination.   He is wiley enough to try, but I think that he made a big mistake pissing off Gingrich early on.  That means he has to deal with Santorum.  But Santorum could probably make a deal with Gingrich naming Gingrich as VP, something Romney probably can't do.
Also note that Santorum is winning with low cash.  He gets more cash because he wins, not the other way around.   You can't buy an election.   I don't think the new super pac rules have changed that.

That said, Super Pacs are still an evil that should be controlled.  If I were in charge, I would rule that while they can spend unlimited money, all deposits MUST be reported the week they are received.  That is now possible using computers, and honestly, not even a big deal.

That does not limit speech, in fact it requires it.    And get rid of the anonymous deposits entirely.  SCOTUS said that corporations had a right to free speech, not a right to anonymity.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

2007 Recession vs 1981 Recession

Many people compare the 2007 recession it to the Great Depression, claiming it was worse than anything since then.  Not true.  It has not been anywhere near as bad as the Great Recession.  

In fact it is most similar to the 1981 recession.  Here are some facts from wikipedia about the 1981 recession:

  • US/Japan got out earlier than other countries
  • It was caused in part by the Fed trying to lower interest rates.  This failed to lower inflation, but did slow down economic growth.  Inflation hit 15% and took about 5 years to get to 2%
  • Unemployment rose from a bit under 6% to 10.3%,
  • Keynesian think deficit spending and lowered interest rates created the recovery.   Conservatives insist it was lower taxes. 
  • While the official length of the 1980's recession is 14 months from July 1981 to November 1982 public opinion was about 3 years.  This is because a the official terminology for 'recession' refers to things getting worse.  Just because things are getting better does not mean they are 'good times' yet.
  • Stock market fell about 18% right after the recession, but was up to 15% again for the next 3 years.

Compare that with the 2007 Recession
  • It looks like the US may be recovering first, again
  • Unemployment went from 4.5% to a bit over 10% (now clearly headed down)
  • Most people think the recession was in large part due to a housing crisis initiated by poor decisions from financial institutions.  Some claim it was Liberal Agencies (Fannie Mae), others claim it was capitalistic banks.
  • Keynesian think deficit spending and lowered interest rates would cause the recovery.   Conservatives insist it on lower taxes. 
  • They kept inflation fairly low from 2% to about 5%.   Th
  •  Official lasted 18 months, from Dec 2007 - June 2009.  As of 20012, clear signs of a recovery are showing - lower unemployment, but unfortunately it is a  slow improvement.
  • Stock market fell about 39.2% and is still down 9.9% after the recession.
The main reason people liken Bush's recession to the Great Depression is not how long it went or the economic recovery.  Instead it is the stockmarket crash and the slowness of the unemployment recovery.

I have talked before about how little the President can do to prevent or fix a recession.  That is why I am using the year instead of the president's name.  But note that Obama was not president until January 20th of 2009 - the recession 18 month recession officially ended 5 months after he took office.   You can't really expect more than that.

So lets talk about the real reasons for the slow recovery - and that's what it is, not a recession.

  1. Tax treasuries were destroyed, and governments shrunk - mainly by firing people.  Business can only find so many new jobs, particularly if more people keep being fired by the government.  Honestly, Bush's wars and tax cuts depleted Clinton's surplus so we had no cushion to fall back on.
  2. At the same time, the military has begun to send people home.  This made the job market worse.
  3. Low inflation but not lowering prevented natural recovery of the housing market.  If inflation dropped, people could refinance, if we had higher inflation, house values would go up with inflation, and people could sell them at a profit, or at least break even and avoid bankruptcy.
  4. The government was heavily and partisan-y split about how to fix the problems.   One side insisted on cutting taxes, the other insisted on increasing services. Throw in a reasonable refusal to let the deficit balloon even more, and you get a political war.   They only kept the interest rates down - they were too low to really lower them any more.