Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Healthcare and the Court

As we speak, the Supreme Court of the United States(SCOTUS) is reviewing the healthcare law.

They have already indicated they consider it a 'penalty', not a tax, using the argument that most people are expected to get healthcare, avoiding the penalty, so it is not an attempt to raise revenue, but an attempt to punish people.  Not set in stone yet, but the tenor of their questions indicate that is a strong possibility.

Next up is the 'legality of regulating inaction vs action'.

The government already regulates inaction.   The federal government used to arrest you for failing to register for the draft.  The states arrest you for not wearing clothing.  The states mandate vaccinations for children - before they enroll in public or private school.  As they also have laws forcing you attend school - with some minor exceptions such as home schooling.  That is a regulation against inaction, forcing you to act, with some exceptions.

The healthcare laws also have some exceptions - it doesn't force you to buy insurance if you are unemployed, for example.

Using that precedent, if the states can regulate inaction, then so can the federal government.  The question then become is health care the territory of the Federal as opposed to state, and honestly that is not challenged (hard to challenge it considering Medicare and Medicaid).

People try to act like healthcare is special - that because it applies to everyone, the government can't regulate inaction.  They claim that the scope of the action changes the rules. 

But that is irrelevant.  The question is not whether the government can force everyone to do something, even if they don't engage in commercial action.  No.  Wrong.   That is TWO questions falsely combined into one, to make it LOOK right.  Scope does not change previously established rules.  If the government can do it to one person, they can do it to ALL people.  There is no rule in the constitution that says the government can do x but only to a small number of people.

The first question is can the government force you to act and second, is the law within the scope of Constitution's mandated federal powers.   The answer to both of those separate questions is yes, as proven by previous precedent.

I fully expect SCOTUS to validate the mandate.

This should negate the sever-ability issue (whether the rest of the act can stand if the mandate falls).

Finally, there is the 'coercion' issue - can the Federal government coerce the states to abide by new Medicaid rules by threatening to take away the Federal money they already get.

This is a long standing precedent for this action.   The national 55 speed limit laws came (and went) because the federal government tied highway money to it.  Similar issues relate to driver licenses rules the federal government wants.

This type of coercion is exactly what the government does.  Nothing illegal here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Is George Zimmerman a racist?

No. From what I can tell, George Zimmerman is not a racist.  He did not use racial epitaphs, such as the N word, he had a legitimate reason to look into Trayvon Martin (he was a Neighborhood watch and did not recognize him.).   His attitude and that of his family and friends do not say racist.    In fact, from what I can tell by listening to the 911 calls and to George Zimmerman's friends and family, he is something much worse than a racist.

George Zimmerman is a fascist, not a racist. 

His problem was not a hatred based on race, but a sense of arrogance and power.  He wanted to be a cop.  He wanted to be in charge.  He wanted respect and authority.  He was big on "Yes Ma'am", "No Ma'am" - offering up the respect he so desperately wanted.   He called the police multiple times to report what he considered 'dangerous incidents' (46 times in 2004, almost 50 times in the year before he killed Trayvon Martin).  He targeted Trayvon not because he was black, but because he targeted EVERYONE.   Amazing that his little community survived with all those dangerous incidents.  He was overzealous and carried a permitted concealed gun.

He was in effect, a tin-pot dictator of the cul-de-sac.  Not the first, and certainly not the last.   Any that live in a home owner's association controlled area, know the type.  They love the gated communities, because it lets them tell you what flowers you are allowed to plant, what colors you can paint your home, what mailbox you can put up, etc. etc.

He saw Trayvon Martin, not as a black kid, but as a disobedient kid. One that dared to disobey his authority.  Think of him like South Park's Cartman.  Cartman is fine with black kids (Literally named "Token" in the show.), but he wants everyone to 'Respect my authoritah!"

Trayvon Martin did not respect George Zimmerman's authoritah.  So George Zimmerman started a fight.  He approached the boy with arrogance, it led to a fight that ended with a gunshot.

George Zimmerman is a tin-pot  dictator.  He killed Trayvon Martin not out of racism, but out of arrogance.   It still doesn't make it self defense.   He hunted and pursued, he did not stand his ground.  He claims that his hunt failed and that Trayvon then approached him.   Maybe every word he claimed is true, but that doesn't let George off the hook.  George started the trouble, not Trayvon.

He needs to go to prison. Technically, the crime he committed is called criminally negligent involuntary manslaughter: willful blindness to the dangerousness and stupidity of his own actions.

Of course, Florida is one of the few states that doesn't distinguish between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, let alone constructive manslaughter vs criminally negligent.  In Florida, it's all the same thing - manslaughter.   It is a second degree felony.  Worse, Florida has a 10-20-Life law that raises the degree one step if a firearm is used.  So George did a first degree felony.  But lets ignore the law for now and concentrate on appropriate punishment.

That's what you get when you use a one size fits all, "hang em and let god sort em out" style of law.  We need laws that deal with the gray situations, not just the extremes.

In my opinion, the proper punishment for George Zimmerman is a short stay in prison (more than a week, less than a year) followed by a long probation, with revocation of his concealed carry permit.  He did something stupid out arrogance, and needs to learn humility more than anything else.  In particular, we don't want this tin pot dictator going armed with a concealed gun.  Let him carry openly, Trayvon probably would simply have run away if George had come at him openly carrying a gun.

Note, his dreams of becoming a police officer has already been destroyed (the publicity ended his potential career).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Can money win an election - revisited

If you read my blog, you know I think the popular guy gets the most money, rather than the most money buys the vote.

I still maintain that is correct for a presidential general election.   But discussions I have had with other people have led me to realize that it might not be the case for all elections.

I believe the Levitt and Dubner (Source = Frekonomics author's study) claim that doubling the money gives you a 1% advantage.  So the effect is small, and more than outweighed by random real world events (Bush's recession destroyed McCain's chances).  If you spend 16x the money the other guy does, you only get a +4% advantage, that is a lot of money for a small bonus.   Typically a presidential election one candidate can't get more than twice the money of the other guy - and then only if he was already far more popular.

But Superpacs have changed that a little bit, and more importantly, it is only true for the general presidential election.

What applies to national general politics does not always apply to lesser races.   You can't buy a presidency, but if you are rich enough, you can buy a mayorship.   Consider Romney, with $250 million.  A mayor's race may cost less than $100,000, and Romney could easily pay $6.4 million, earning him an +6%.

Also, as Romeny -Santorum has demonstrated, organization costs money and it can keep you off the primary ballot in certain states.      Some would say that if Santorum can't get the money and organization together for the primaries, he can't win a general election.  I reply that to the winner of the primary gets the best support from the establishment, and Santorum would be flooded with more competent people and more money if he did in fact win the primary.

I continue to believe that money can't buy a general presidential election, but local elections and primaries in particular are a different story.   It is possible to buy them.  

Yet one more reason why the state and local governments are far more corrupt than federal governments.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Florida Stand your Ground Law

The case is fairly simple.

A black kid went out to buys some Skittles.  A Neighborhood Watch captain, saw him and thought he was suspicious.  The NW captain called the police, the police said they would come.  The NW captain decided to approach the kid, the police told him not to (Neighborhood Watch people are specifically told to obey the police).   There was a struggle and the NW captain shot and killed (with a single shot) the kid.

The kid was unarmed and his blood tests turned up negative for drugs.  The police, in their stupidity, forgot to test the NW captain.

Now comes the law problem.  In 2005, the National Rifle Association, over the objection of local police, pushed through a "Stand your Ground Law."

The law says that you don't have to retreat if you feel threatened.   The problem is people are pretty generous about feeling threatened.

To quote South Park "Do you see that deer?  IT'S COMING RIGHT AT ME.  BLAM".

There are other cases.  In 2010, a bossy man by the name of Trevor Dooley got into a confrontation with David James (in front of David James's daughter) and shot Mr. James dead.

The authors of the law says that the NW captain should be charged, that the Stand your Ground Law does not make his actions legal (Source).   Both former Sen. Durell Peaden and current state Rep. Dennis Baxley, agree on that point.

Peaden, (R), said that the law lets you meat force with force, it does not let you confront another person.  As the NW captain approached the black kid, it was the NW captain doing the approaching, and the law does not protect him.

“The guy lost his defense right then,” said Peaden. “When he said ‘I’m following him,’ he lost his defense.”

You know what, I agree with him.  The cops and prosecutors are mis-applying the law that the NRA wrote and convinced Peaden and Baxley to push.

But this indicates a problems with many laws.  It is not enough to finally craft a law with appropriate exceptions.   More specifically, that is the problem when lobbyists craft a law to protect their interests.  They tend to ignore the opposing side and don't make things clear.   The law must also be clearly understood by the police and the prosecutors.   There are similar "must give" laws that are designed to ensure that people can get gun licenses.  The problem is the judges are mis-reading the law and thinking they must give licenses to clearly and obviously dangerous people.

When a law is being mis-applied right off the bat, that means the idiot that wrote the law made a mistake.  You don't blame the people misapplying the law, you blame the morons that wrote it. 

There is a simple reason for this.  Technology advances.  We end up having to apply freedom of speech rules to new inventions like twitter.   If the cops, lawyers and judges don't understand it well enough the decade you wrote it, how are they supposed to interpret it in 100 years when new technology brings new challenges to the law.

The GOP has to take responsibility for writing crappy, poorly written "propaganda" laws, designed to 'prove' something or support a single constituency, as opposed to being fair to all.

The simplest, best way to re-write the Stand your Ground law should be to make it clear you can NOT initiate contact with the target in any way shape or form.   You can't approach them, you can't question them, you can't do anything to them until they acted first.  That should have been made clear in the original law, but they didn't do a good job.

Why?  Because they were too focused on appeasing the National Rifle Association and didn't care all that much about their constituency, particularly the liberals that voted against them.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why the states are more corrupt than federal governments

An interesting report (Source = CNN) came out confirming that the states and local governments are more corrupt than the federal government.

The top 5 (in order) most ethical states  were New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California, and Nebraska.  Georgia was the worst state, followed by South Dakota, Wyoming, Virgina, Maine, South Carolina, North Dakota and Michigan, all of who scored an "F". 

It blamed lack of enforcement as the problem.   I see this as a symptom of the real problem - lack of qualified, ethical people running government.   Government has to compete with business to get the best and the brightest.  If you are an ethical person, business offers much greater financial rewards - but not if you are an unethical person.

Moreover, if you are an ethical and well qualified person, you typically try to move from local to state to federal government as fast as you can.  No person wants to be a state assemblyman when they could be a congressman.

Not all people in local government are unethical, but across the board they are usually less competent than their federal counterparts.   With the exception of Governor, pretty much every in state government is someone that is not good enough to make it in federal politics.

It's very similar to a sports franchise - the people in the minor leagues are not up to the quality of the major leagues, with a few exceptions.

That means the laws they pass tend to be worse, and they let unethical activities slide.   Enough of them are unethical that they will create loopholes that the ethical ones don't catch.

So, how can we clean up state governments - keeping in mind that you can't expect them to clean themselves up?  Another issue is that the Constitution limits the scope of federal laws.   The federal government can't just pass laws about what state assemblyman can do.  Nor can the FBI investigate merely local level corruption.

Non-Radical Proposal: 

Well, one trick the Federal government does is refuse to give money unless the state acts like a grownup.   That is how the Federal government promulgated a national 55 mph speed limit, in the 1974 National Maximum Speed Law.  Similarly, it is how Texas is currently being punished for refusing to give Planned Parenthood money for non-abortion related activities.

I propose that for a state to get any federal money granted to a State or local government, the state must demonstrate their ethic rules have teeth - and actually enforce them.   All reports must be investigated, and all confirmed cases must be penalized.   If less than 50% of reported cases can go unpenalized (Georgia hasn't issued a single penalty since 1999 and has over 650 reports in just 2 years), then the state must prove that each and every single reported case was innocent.

This is on the light side.   It will reduce corruption some, but not elminate it.

Now for something far more effective

Radical proposal:

Stop printing cash.   Say goodbye to dollar bills completely.  We can keep the coins (dump the pennies -put lincoln on a new $3 coin), but no more paper.   Move to a cashless soceity, powered by credit cards, checks, wire transfers, Paypal, and similar accounts.    Keep the coins for vending machines at least until we replace the paper readers for credit card readers.  At last people will actually use dollar coins.

Sweden is having great success moving towards that kind of economy.   (Sweden Source).  They are not all the way there yet - still 3% cash, as opposed to 7% in the US.   But it is possible.

As a result, they have seen crime drop significantly.  No more bank robberies, muggings, etc.    No more shady bags or envelopes full of cash delivered to politicians in smoke filled rooms.

I'd love to see someone try to give a bag full of silver dollars as payments.  Or worse, stealing it.  They'd break their backs trying to move $100. 

As a side effect, we save all the excessive money we spend on printing and destroying paper money (It is far less efficient than coins).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why DNA databases may not be a good idea - but we should to them anyway.

New York State is passing a new law that DNA from anyone convicted of almost any crime will be required to give a DNA sample.  This will double the state's DNA database. (Source)

I am conflicted about this.   On the one hand, it is likely to put more criminals in jail, and possible (no guarantee) of protecting innocent people.   But there are several valid arguments against it.  I will use fingerprints for comparison purposes.

  1. Targeted vs scatter shot DNA tests.  The current system is fairly targeted.  What they are talking about is a scatter shot method.  As most people know, DNA is not perfect.  They don't say "THE BLOOD WAS HIS."  Instead they say "There is 1 in 30 million chance that the blood is anyone but his."  (See Reason #4 below).   That's fine if you use a targeted approach:  you start with five suspects and you compare their DNA and find one and only one of them is a DNA match (with a 1 in 30 million chance of a false match).  It's not fine when you don't have a suspect and check the DNA against all 3 million people currently in the system (scatter shot).   Then the odds become 3 million in 30 million.  By shear chance you get a guy in Buffalo, with no connection to the victim, who was once convicted of drunk driving and is now a suspect in a murder that happened in East Hampton (over 400 miles away).  Hope he has an alibi.  Even then, chances are he is going to have to pay for a lawyer and a lot of travel.  This can't happen with a full fingerprint, and the cops are experienced enough to take partial fingerprints with a grain of salt.
  2. DNA contains evidence of intensely private things you don't want made public.  Sometimes you don't want to know it yourselves.  Are you adopted?   Did your mother cheat on your father?  Did your father cheat on your mother and you have a half brother you didn't know about?  Some diseases that don't have treatments are detectable by DNA.  Some people don't want to know that information, and once it gets into a database, it can sneak out.  Particularly in a small town where the cops are nosy busybodies - and who may know the suspects.  Fingerprints don't have these issues, they are not connected to diseases nor do they run in families.
  3. Fingerprints are MORE accurate than DNA.  But most people falsely believe that fingerprints are less accurate..  Yes, you heard me, fingerprints are more trustworthy.  There has not been a single case of someone being found with the same fingerprints as someone else.  Moreover, every single person has ten fingerprints, and they don't match itself or other people.  With seven billion people in the world, that's a pretty good sample size of 70 billion, individual, non-matching fingerprints.  That is NOT the case for DNA.  Even assuming we use a full genome decoding, people have twin brothers and cloning is just around the corner.  Of the 7 billion, approximately 10 million are identical twins (monzygotic), or about 2 out of a thousand people.   (Source)
  4. Most fingerprints found are partials.   When you say partial print, the jury and the judge all realize that it is not 100% accurate.   EVERY SINGLE DNA TEST IS A PARTIAL - BUT THEY DON'T ADMIT IT.   They never decode your entire genome, they test only a tiny fraction of it. You have 3 billion base pairs they could test, but in the US, only test 13 loci, each of which may have as little as 4 base pairs. (Source).  Up until recently they did not have the technology to decode your entire DNA, and even now it is very expensive and takes months, if not years to do.
  5. It is easier to fake DNA, but harder to convince a jury the DNA is fake.  If your want to fake DNA you get your hands on a sample and spill it over the place.  Most men are perfectly willing to give pretty women a DNA sample (forgive me if I don't explain why).  To fake a fingerprint, you have to get a sample, then use some rather complex scanning equipment to create a rubber mold - it's like something out of a spy movie, not something most people can do.  Or you have to trick the target into touching something small and mobile - which a good defense attorney will bring up ("Note sirs, the only place my client's fingerprints were found was on a bicycle handle. How exactly did the bicycle get into the changing room in Macy?")
  6. The prosecutors do not just let you out if DNA proves you are innocent.  Prosecutors come up with strange crime theories ("He must have had a partner - even though I never argued that to a jury."), and often refuse to let people even get a DNA test, let alone get out of jail if proven innocent by the DNA test.  (Source)
  7. It's not just the arrested person whose DNA privacy gets invaded.  They also do "family matches' and because you got arrested, your sister's DNA is now detectable.  ("Sir we got a family match with John Terrel, a man convicted of check fraud.  The DNA found in this brothel is similar but not identical.  It must belong to a half sister of his.  Shall we go ask him where his sister is?)

All that said, I do think DNA is a good crime detection device.   I would probably pass a similar law, with some minor changes.  You need to protect against the problems I have mentioned.

Specifically, I would require that everyone, even convicted criminals have the right to test DNA related to a case.   If the DNA does not support the conviction, then they will, required by law, get a trial to determine if the DNA would have been sufficient to get them off.   In such a case, the prosecutor should be forbidden from arguing any theory of the crime not presented in the original trial unless they have evidence to support it.  That is, if they want to claim he had a partner, when they did not do so originally, they must find evidence of said partner (besides the DNA).

In addition, I would want all DNA experts to be required to refer to DNA matches as partial DNA matches unless the entire genome was decoded and matched.   You can't get away with imprecise technical language just because it's common practice.

Finally, I would require that if someone was not a suspect before the DNA match was done, then the prosecutor must admit that and explain how many people they tested the DNA against to find him.  That is you can't say "One in 200 million chance of false match" if you compared the DNA to one million suspects.  You have to say "One million in 200 million - or only 1 in 200."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Newt Gingrich is a Communist - or a Bold Faced Liar.

First, let me say that while people pay attention to gas prices, they really don't matter.

No one really cares about the price of gas - as long as the price of everything else stays low.  Gasoline is not our major expense.  If gas goes up a lot and I pay an extra $10 a week for gasoline, isn't that big a deal.  It's only  $500 a year, and honestly most people get better raises. 

What matters is the total cost of living increase.  Also known as inflation.     If everything I pay for goes up by 10% in one year, then I need a 10% raise just to keep up.  That's a real problem.  If gas goes up by 10% and nothing else does, it's not as big a a deal.

Gasoline is not even 1% of the total CPI.(Source: see page 26)  Specifically, as per the USA CPI importance for gasoline is only 5.273 out of a thousand.  That is, just a bit more than one half of one percent of the Consumer Price Index comes from gasoline.  Raise that to 5.463 thousandths if you include all vehicle fuel (diesel, flex fuels, etc.).

The price of gas is just not that important.

That said, it is a single price, that you often see every single day, as compared to the total price of all the food you eat.   Almost everyone buys it, and even those that don't generally see it sold in big letters at gas stations.  In effect, it is a shortcut for inflation used by ignorant people that don't look at the CPI.  It is a really bad estimate of inflation, but people use it anyway.

Now, a lot of us are busy, so I don't blame people for not knowing the CPI.

I do however blame Newt Gingrich, the commie SOB, and the rest of the GOP for pretending the price of gas is important.

Why do I think Newt is a communist?   Because he promised to deliver $2.50 gasoline.  Setting the price of products, particularly commodities like oil or wheat, is practically the definition of communism. They call it "centralized planning".  Half the reason Russia fell was they set the price of food so low farmers couldn't survive and left the business.  They had long lines at grocery stores.  Do we want that kind of stupidity here?

It is possible for a president to set the price of gasoline in his own country. Make no mistake about it.   President Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela has done it for quite some time (Article about Venezula Gas price).  How does Venezuela do it?  By nationalizing the industry (Wikipedia source on Venezuela nationlizing) and giving massive public subsidies to keep the price low.  As in 90% subsidies.

And frankly, that is the ONLY way Newt Ginginch can live up to his guarantee of gasoline at $2.50 a gallon.   By nationalizing the industry and then spending government money to keep the price low.

Because, even with unlimited, unregulated oil exploration, tax breaks, oil pipelines, etc. gasoline can not be guaranteed to go above $2.50.   Because most of the world's oil sources are not in the USA.  The President of the USA can not control Canadian shale production, Venezulan production, Saudi production, Iranian production, Kuwait Production, etc. etc.

We are not in charge of the world gas price and haven't been in decades.  The only way for the President of the USA to keep the US gas price under control is to give massive government subsidies, just like that commie Hugo Chavez does.

So, Newt Gingrich is a communist.   Or a liar that can't live up to the ridiculous, lying promises he makes.   I know he isn't stupid, he strikes me as a very smart man, so he can't simply be too stupid to know what he said.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How much would getting rid of welfare COST us?

One of the major problems that conservatives make is the belief that doing nothing is free.  It isn't.  Often it is the most expensive thing to do. 

If you don't pay for a fire department, then your house can burn down.  Yes, on an individual basis, it doesn't always make sense to pay for a fire department.  For example if you lose your main job and are working overtime at the 7-11 to barely afford your mortgage, then it makes more sense to forgo the fire department.  You might not be able to pay for both the mortgage and the fire department, and the mortgage is more important. Note, there are really town where you can choose not to pay for fire department service.  Not many because...

But to society as a whole, it makes far more sense to fund the fire department.    While individuals may be willing to take the risk, with enough individuals, it ceases to become a risk and becomes a guarantee.  Worse, fires spread.  Same for the police and for ambulance care.  Which is why most governments fold these things into general taxes, not charge separately.
So not paying for things does in fact cost you.  Lets assume you get rid of all welfare.  How much would it cost you?

Well, as per Philip Mangano (via Politifact), George Bush's homelessness policy czar, each homeless person cost more than $35,000 a year, depending on location.  Homeless people in a warm, rural area cost loss.  In colder, cities, a lot more.  In some places, as much as $150,000 a year.   Keep in mind that these numbers are over 5 years old, they may have gone up.  Why so expensive?  Well, I don't know if you ever met a homeless guy, but some of them are not model citizens.   They get arrested, they get sick, the get addicted to alcohol.  They invade libraries who have to hire extra security to handle them.   Quite a few of them are just plain CRAZY.  So our police, ambulances, medical services, and fire departments spend a crap load of money to deal with them.  In fact, in some areas, most of what the police do is deal with the homeless.  Ask any small town cop, his duties usually involve a couple very poor troublemakers, plus kids being kids. 

Unless of course you give them housing.   You see, as per Mangano, it costs less than $25,000 a year to give them a home with minimal services.   That $25,000 a year is for the expensive, colder cities.   It's cheaper in a warmer rural climate.  I'm not talking a mansion, just a place to hang their hat - with power, water, maybe a security guard with a phone, etc.  They have a place to stay out of trouble, they have less exposure to the elements, life is a bit better (so less reason to get hooked on drugs) and less exposure to criminals, such as drug pushers.

Not to mention that it is easier to hire a single security guard for the housing area than to hire extra cops AND to hire security for all the libraries, hospitals, etc.

Paying for minimal care for the homeless is a lot cheaper than letting them roam free.  And it's not just the homeless.

Same goes for healthcare for young, employable people.  Better to give them healthcare (say insulin for example - it's one of the growing expenses) letting them keep working (as opposed to losing toes, fingers, legs etc.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Supreme Court Recusals

The Supreme Court has an issue with recusals.  They don't handle them well.  There is no one above them to say "Hey, you can't hear this case."  Recently a lot of people are complaining about their inability to conduct recusals fairly ((Source)

Part of the problem is the precariously balanced right/left nature of the court.   A judge can't recuse him/herself without dramatically shifting the balance.

The current US court system works as follows:   94 district courts, plus the US Bankruptcy Court, the US court of International Trade and the US Court of Federal Claims (suing the US government).  Above them are the 12 regional courts of appeals  plus the "Court of Appeals" which covers the Bankruptcy, International Trade and Federal Claims court.

Then there are the national courts not part of the Appeals court hierarchy.   These include Military Courts (trial and appellate), the Court of Veterans Appeals, the US Tax Court, and certain administrative agencies and boards.  These typically do not get appealed to the Supreme Court, but theoretically the Supreme Court could claim jurisdiction over a case they try.  In addition, there are the various state court systems.

Above everything is the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS)   They are the top.

This is what should be done;

First,  we need some one to appeal a SCOTUS Judge's refusal to recuse.  I suggest a board of judges randomly chosen from the Court of Veterans Appeals, the US Tax Court, and the state supreme courts (Note, in New York, the 'Supreme Courts' are actually the lowest state court and the highest level court is the "Court of Appeals" - in this and similar cases I mean the highest state court, not the one with the word "supreme" in it.)   Recusal requests should not common, so we could just take all their names and select five of them at random to hear the request.

Second, we can not allow the balance to be overturned.   As such, when a Supreme Court Judge chooses to recuses himself of his own free will, then he can select any judge from the 13 Federal Courts of Appeals (that was not previously involved in the case) to stand in his place.  Give him the total control over this process, assuming he willing recused himself.  If however, he has refused to recuse himself, then the judge will be selected randomly (from the Federal Appeals Court judges not previously involved in the case).

This is the key thing.   By doing it this way, it will encourage the judges to recuse themselves when appropriate, as they get to pick their replacement. 

In addition, it will give the Appeals Court Judges some "Supreme" experience, which may make selecting a replacement when a SCOTUS judge retires just a little bit easier.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Coming Hispanic GOP problem

I've talked before about the rise of Hispanic voters.   This is a major problem for the GOP.  Yes, Hispanics tend to be conservative.  So what?  LOTS of Democrats are conservative (Obama for example).  Hispanics tend to vote Democrat for a simple reason:

The GOP is not just conservative, it is ultra conservative - look at how few refused to sign the "Norquist No Tax Pledge" .  They GOP is racist.   It is not just against immigration - it proposes (and passes) anti-immigration laws that are over the top and unfairly punish people for being Hispanic, not just the illegal immigrations.  It's easy to find Hispanics, it's a lot harder to find a french illegal immigrant.

As per the 2010 Consensus (Source), the following states have large Hispanic populations and GROWING

New Mexico is about 47%
Texas and California are both about 38%
Arizona about 30%Nevada about 26%
Florida is about 22%
Colorado about 20%

Of those, only New Mexico and California are already Democrat territory. The GOP can't really win there.  Florida, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada are swing states.    Texas is a Republican stronghold.
Even by 2016, some of those swing states, will turn Democrat.  It will take a remarkably bad Democrat and a remarkably good Republican to win Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona.   A good, Hispanic Democrat could theoretically take Texas.  By 2020, Texas will be a Swing State.  

The GOP knows this and they tried to gerrymander away the Hispanic vote in Texas.   The case went all the way to the Supreme Court - where they got a slight victory (the court said the districts can't gerrymander away the Hispanic vote, but did reject the proposed lower court solution).

So the GOP is pretty screwed starting in 2016.   UNLESS....

They put Marc Rubio as their Presidential candidate.  With a blatantly Hispanic candidate, pushing conservative values that most Hispanics agree with, the GOP will be able to hold onto them.

Which is why Marc Rubio is the single most dangerous Republican in the United States today.

With him, the GOP can hold on to Texas definitely, and have a good shot at Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado.  Without him, they have no chance - assuming the Democrats don't put forth an idiot.

Truthfully, the only reason why the GOP hasn't already lost Texas is that many of the Hispanic population is illegal, and the rest have relatives that are illegal.  They are scared to vote.   But as time goes on, their children get born in the country and grow up as legal American citizens that are less and less afraid for their relatives.

Texas could very well be competitive for the Democrats in 2016.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why Democracy is better than other forms of Government

Hint, it's not 'the best possible'.  Nor does it put 'the best guy' in charge.

First I need to say, this is about a real democracy, not a sham one.  If there is not at least two political parties that have a reasonable chance of winning the election, it's not a democracy.

There are in fact certain advantages to other forms of government.  They don't have costly elections, often the next leader is known long before he takes office - so he can study and learn how to be a better leader.  In addition, because the next leader is known, he has no reason to try and cheat to gain power, which means he won't have as much practice or reason to cheat after he gains power.  Also, to misquote Trey Parker/Matt Stone, our experience with Democracy is that "It's always a choice between a turd and a douche".

There are in fact studies that demonstrate that Democracy tends to pick leaders only slightly better than average. (Source)

But Democracy has been proven time and time again to be better than other forms.   Even if the democracy results in a turd (or a douche) it is better than a coup that results in a 'good leader'.

Democracy works for six specific reasons:

1) It's often about ideas, not people.   The nature of democracy means people have to band together and create a distinct sub-culture/viewpoint, called a political Party.  You often vote for a party, not for the person.   This is important because the party can't lie about their views.   If you try, then you attract people that believe your lies, and the party gets slowly transformed into actually believing what they claimed they believe. (which is why Ron Paul has been gaining ground each year in the GOP)

2)  It forces the leader to pay some attention to what the population wants.   Unlike North Korea, where they can ignore the population's demand for food and spend money on nuclear bombs, we have to at least look into what people want and try to answer there needs.
3)  It tends to stop people without social skills from taking power.  You need good social skills to win an election and running a country is mostly about social skills - getting people to do what you want them to do.   Leadership is about LEADING, not thinking.   In particular, diplomatic relationships are all about social skills.

4)  Democracy usually trains multiple people.  The advantage of having multiple people train for leadership is that you always have a backup.  While they don't get the 'from birth' training that a monarchy offers, this way if one of them dies, another one is ready and willing to take over.

5) The adversarial nature leads to active, strong investigation of candidates.   Of course, that requires that people believe the opposition and care about the infractions, otherwise you get Berlusci in charge of Italy.  If corruption is assumed, or considered acceptable, this doesn't happen or matter.

6)  You get what you deserve.  If some douche gets elected, IT'S YOUR OWN DAMN FAULT.  Frankly, sometimes people deserve a turd (or a douche) leading them.  Experience is the best teacher.  If you vote in a douche, maybe next time (assuming the douche doesn't stop all elections), you will learn your lesson and not vote for them again.

 Democracy's main weakness is how do you start a good one.   When people come from a corrupt culture, then often good people trust corrupt men, if for no other reason than the absence of honest men in politics.   At heart it comes down to whether honest democracy is publicly valued enough.  If so, it can handle a moderate level of corruption - as long as they think of themselves as honest.   Then they can raise up successively less corrupt generations of politicians and in 100 years, you can work your way to a real honest government.

If on the other hand, the culture falls on the other side - with honest democracy valued less than success, money, or religion, then it will slowly become worse and worse, until an outright dictatorship takes over, often leading to a revolution - if only after the dictator's death.

America was incredibly lucky to start with George Washington - a man with the strength of character to reject kingship and then step down after but two elections.  Think about what could have happened if our first leader was an Andrew Jackson, or a Richard Nixon, both of whom thought they were above the law.   We very well might have become a Monarchy.

Democracy takes a huge amount of character to start - but they tend to be improve if they make it past their twenties.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Will we go to a Contested GOP Convention.

The GOP has a possible 2286 delegates.   Of those, 745 have already been awarded, with 415 going to Mitt Romney, 230 to other candidates.

You need 1144 delegates (1 more than half) to win the primary.   As Romney currently has about 55.7% of the delegates, to the uninformed it looks like he will make it.

Unfortunately for him, the reality is a bit different.

First of all, the Santorum campaign got off to a rocky start and could not even try for Virginia (did not make it onto the ballot).   But it's been picking up steam and they won't have that problem again.   More importantly, Romney's has used up almost all his safe votes.  He is governor of Massachusets, and grew up in Michigan.  Obviously those would be his two strongest states.  He is also Mormon, which helps explain his wins in Nevada and Arizona.  In addition, he won New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.  He really has only one more safe state - Utah is the only remaining strong Mormon state.  Yes New York touches Massachusetts, but Santorum is from Pennsylvania which also touches New York.

If you pull out the safe states I mentioned above,  (244 votes for Romney, plus 59 votes for other people), then Romney has a win ration of only 47.37%.

Assuming Romney wins all of Utah 40 delegates (Mormon), but none of the 71 Pennsylvania delegates (Santorum's home state), that brings him up to 455 votes.  Then if he wins 47.41% of the remaining 1430 delegates, that brings him another 678 other delegates, for a grand total of  1132.  Which makes him short by 12 whole delegates.

The odds are very good for a brokered convention.

Note that Romney will still most likely WIN the brokered convention.  He has  more than twice as many votes as Santorum, or a more than 200 vote lead.  Santorum would probably need to convince Gingrich AND Ron Paul delegates to support him in order to beat Romney, while Romney needs only one these groups to win.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why Insurance (of any kind) should pay for birth control

 This is not about religion o the government.  It is about why healthcare should pay for birth control.

Health insurance is not a magic pool of money - any money you get out must first come in.   If birth control costs say $30/month, then if everyone buys it through insurance, it raises the cost of insurance by say $32 - after all their are administration costs and and the insurance company needs a profit.

So, why do it through health insurance as opposed to paying for it ourselves?  It clearly costs more

Well, first of all, not everyone buys birth control but everyone benefits from it.   When we do it through insurance, it doesn't raise the women's health care cost by $32, it raises both men and women's healthcare by $16.   This is fair because the men benefit as much as the women do.   For every woman that has an unwanted child, their is a man with an unwanted child as well.

But that's not all.  If the birth control is condoms, we not only control birth but we limit the spread of deadly, incurable, EXPENSIVE diseases.   Condoms are clearly healthcare - and as anyone concerned about an epidemic would consider it worthwhile for all to use birth control.  Birth control pills have similar, though not as strong or obvious, health effects.

Also, if it is covered by insurance than that encourages people to actually use it - as they have already paid for it.  It stops idiots from having unprotected sex because of short term money issues.  Anything that stops idiots from having unprotected sex is a good idea.  We have enough idiots, we don't need them making more.

Moreover, as China has clearly demonstrated, it is in the interest of United States to limit birth.   While China is a autocratic country that uses evil methods to limit births, that does not mean a democratic country can't use legal insurance rules to encourage people to limit births.

That is, it is in the states' interest to reduce birth in the USA .   Our population is growing and excessive population growth can cause problems (just as Japan is having an issue with insufficient population growth)

As such, it is reasonable to charge everyone to control births, even if they don't want to do it.  Requiring insurance companies to offer it is a kind of indirect tax on consumers that don't want birth control.   It makes them pay for those that do.   Which is currently in the United States's national interest.

Note, if we ever have Japan's problem of insufficient births, it would then make sense to prevent insurance companies from covering birth control, and perhaps to even tax it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Elitism vs Diversification - why the GOP's primary is getting 'mean'

This is a major issue that the world has fought multiple wars over.  At heart, both the American Civil War and World War II were fights over Elitism vs Diversification.

In the American Civil War, the Diversification faction won.   They insisted that no one group was better than another, so slavery was an evil thing, and could NOT be allowed - not in the same country and not even in a country next door to a truly free country.

While the Diversification faction (North) won the war, the Elitist kept their philosophy alive in an underground movement.  During World War II, this fight went from an internal struggle within a nation to an external struggle without nations.   The Axis countries, Germany, Italy and Japan, all held beliefs that they were elite and superior to others.  The Allied countries believed in diversity and used this to help win the war.

Specifically, we - as Americans - used immigrants from our enemy (mostly German Jews) to develop secret weapons, native Americans as "code talkers", had black soldiers (Tuskegee Airmen, 761st Tank Battalion.), etc.  In addition we agreed to a treaty with Communist Russia - our next enemy - to attack Germany.

Clearly, Diversification beat Elitism in World War II.

Note, in general, elitism is a philosophy that encourages active attacks - it provides a pseudo-moral ground to allow you to engage in theft.  But simultaneously, it  does poorly in holding onto gains - you can't integrated defeated people into your elite group.

But, elitism continues to exist in the USA.  It has not been defeated. The Democratic National Party embraces Diversification - homosexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Jews, conservatives (see last post - they call themselves "progressives"), liberals, etc.  all have a place in the Big Tent of the DNC.

The GOP has slowly been taken over by the elitist.  You can see it in their epitaphs - they think the word "liberal" is an insult.  Similarly, RINO - "Republican In Name Only" is an insult.  You can see it in their statements about homosexuality.  You can see it in how they treat the poor - refusing to admit that sometimes good people end up poor.  For example, they might have tried to help their sick family members.  You see it in their economic philosophies of trickle down - whether they are talking about taxes or jobs.

Elitism makes it very easy to attack.  Since the GOP believes they are fundamentally superior, as opposed to simply have the right answer, it makes character attacks easier.  Hence the lies about 'socialism', the president's birth certificate, etc. etc.

But it makes defense much harder.   The GOP can't integrate mildly conservatives because the aren't conservative ENOUGH.  They can't even accept a conservative Muslim because he is well, a Muslim  (Story of Nezar Hamze)  Most importantly, they can't accept the moderates.  Not in the party, let alone as an office seeker.  This leads to more and more extremism and puts them in a severe predicament - they can't attract the moderates during an election.

Note, this is a relatively new phenomena - it begin about 20 years ago, but has been taking over the party exponentially.  The 9/11 attack enabled them to continue to win elections despite the fact that they were appealing to less and less moderates.  Then the prevented Obama from fixing the economic downturn that they created, and managed to blame him for it in the 2010 mid terms.  But they are running out of luck - and worse, time.

Shortly the GOP will begin to lose more and more elections in moderate districts.  Already they have lost the ability to win a national election without a terrorist threat to scare the people into voting Republican.

Another problem with the "elite" philosophy is in internal fights.   Your main battle is a harsh, no holds barred one, so that is what you learn how to do.  Worse, you realize that if you lose the internal fight, they may decide that you are "Not Republican Enough" - and start marginalizing you.   After all, you have done it before yourself, claiming your opponents are "Republican In Name Only", so you know they will do it to you if you lose.

I expect this to continue.  If Romney or Santorum don't end up a clear winner soon, the fight is going to get worse.   Pass the popcorn.  For a liberal like me, it's going to be fun to watch. 

With any luck at all, the conservative wave, triggered by fear of terrorism, in 2000-2009 is over.  A counter stroke of liberalism may be rising, just like the conservative wave in the 80's that rose in response to the 70's.