Monday, October 29, 2012

How America Lies

America lies.  So do all countries.  China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, England, Israel, they all lie. I am sure even Canada lies, as hard as it is to believe.  They can't be that polite all the time :D

It's human nature to lie and governments are made of human beings.   There are things the country is ashamed of and things the country considers secret.   When asked about these things, the country will lie.

The question not do they lie, but instead when, how and why the country lies.  Lets look at the Libyan Ambassador incident.  How exactly did the US respond.  Here are the pertinent facts:

  • Emails to the White House describing a claim of terrorist  attack.
  • President Obama gave a press conference in the Rose Garden the day after the attack describing it as an 'act of terror'.
  • But we also have the administration taking two weeks discussing how it might have been a public reaction to a film, as opposed to an act by a terrorist organization.  Eventually they pronounced it just another planned act by a terrorist organization.

There are several possibilities here.

  1. The administration was unclear about what happened for a whole two weeks.  They didn't know, and their communication revealed that fact.
  2. They knew it was just an act of terror and failed to tell the American people for some strange political purposes.
  3. They knew it was just an act of terror and failed to tell anyone because they didn't want the bad guys to know that we knew.  (Funny thing about terrorists, they watch CNN - and Fox as well).
First of all, taking two weeks to make sure what happened is NOT unreasonable.   How would you feel if it turned out to have been funded by Russia agents with the Islamic terrorists set up as a fall guy?  Worse that fact didn't come to light for two years? (Nothing against Russia, just using them as a handy traditional enemy).   God, that would have been a nightmare.  And indicate clear incompetence.

Two weeks is not two years.  It is a reasonable amount of time to be unclear.  So option #1 is not a bad outcome, it's just a cautious one taken by people that are not fools accepting everything at face value.

Option #2 is just plain strange.  What possible political advantage does anyone think Obama (or any US administration) have?  A record of no terrorist attack in Libya?  No one cares.  It's like accusing someone of breaking into a child's piggy bank to steal the coins.  Nothing worth stealing.  No upside.  The downside when it comes out is far worse.   Only a lunatic would think this is what happened.  You want to make this claim, you need to come up with some reasonable explanation of the proposed political gain and so far you have nothing.

Option #3 is is a reasonable thing.  Why?  Because it is in line with what the US has done in the past.  We love to hide what we know.  We refuse to talk about our information gathering techniques, even those that are decades old, because we might use similar ones in the future.   The US likes to keep things secret.

But both option #1 and option #3 are not bad things.  They show a President in charge and doing his job.  So why do the GOP complain?  Because they want to imply option #2.  But all they can do is imply because it is obvious that option #2 is total bullshit.

THAT is how America lies.   We imply things without stating them.

Why?  Because we have a free press that is very good at investigating things.  If we come out and state something, they catch us on the lie.   But if we don't outright say something, they have no 'gotcha' quote they can throw back in our face.  We can however said "I didn't say that, I just asked the question."

We lie by omission.  We lie by asking questions like "Did Romney join the KKK?"  No of course he didn't.  But I just I implied it.    That's how Americans lie.  We don't forge evidence.  We don't accuse innocent people.  We omit.

 The same goes for most of the 'free world'.  Canada, Europe, etc. all have strong free press cultures.   The governments have learned that the best way to lie is to avoid stating something rather than to say something 'on the record', where it can be used against you.

 As a result, we have gotten very good at lying. 

This is very different from how many other countries lie.  China, Russia and much of the Islamic world do not have a free press.   You can't investigate their lies, you can't prove them wrong.

This means they suck at lying.  They just state a false statement and expect people to believe them.  One of two things happen.  Either
  1. Their citizens believe their governments lies (and therefore distrust all other news sources outside their government's control, especially the ones that tell the real truth)
  2. Their citizens stop trusting anyone - because they see how often their own government lies.  They assume every other government lies the same way.

In either case, when they hear the USA speak, they distrust us.   Usually when we are speaking the truth - because it is so very hard to catch the US in a lie.   Mainly because we don't lie outright, we circle the truth.

Next post:  When the US government lies.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Political Extortion.

I have heard some people argue in favor of voting for Romney as follows:

1) Romney and Obama are not that strikingly different.  Both are moderates, Obama is a shade more liberal, Romney is a shade more conservative.  In general, I agree with this point, in part because Romney, who during the primary claimed to be a far right zealous Republican, has during the general election, totally flip-flopped and claimed to be a moderate.

2) But the GOP has refused to compromise one bit, insisting on portraying Obama as a radical, making getting rid of him their "#1 job", etc. etc.  In general, I think this statement is also true.

3) Conclusion, as long as the GOP has the house (and it looks like they will retain a majority their, even if they lose a couple of seats), that it's best to have Romney as President in order to get things done.   

But I don't agree with their conclusion.

For the purpose of this argument, let's assume that both assumptions (#1 and #2) are correct  - the candidates are close and the GOP has actively refused to compromise (in reality, the DNC is also partially to blame - although much less so) .  Because if the blame resides on the Democrats as well as the Republicans, then their pro-Romney argument falls apart as the Democrats will be just as annoying and refusing to compromise (and via their Senate majority, just as much a roadblock).

There are several reasons to not bow down to their extortion.

1)  Those 'shades' they mentioned in step 1, are important.  Government/legal progress  is made by baby steps more often than by large steps.  (This is Legal change as opposed to Political change - political change tends to happen in large steps.)  It's the difference between accepting gays in the military and maintaining 'separate but equal'.  It's the difference between getting another more conservative Supreme Court Judge that might be a Roberts (or might be a Scalia) and getting an actual liberal on the Court.

2)  We don't give in to extortion.  If you do, you invite more extortion.  Better to get nothing done and train the the extortionist not to extort then it is to bow down to them and accept their demands.  We are free men, not slaves, and the price of freedom is sometimes high.   If this means we go through some pain now, then we gain far more in the future by having better leaders that have learned from their mistakes.

3)  You can't trust an extortionist. They won't pass reasonable laws even with Romney in charge. That is, first they demand X, when they get it, they then demand 2X.   Better to have nothing done than to have bad things done.

4) If the other party is in fact being that much of an extortionist, it opens up more objectionable actions by the president.  That is, the GOP is not the only one that can act unilaterally.    The president can and will do a lot without their help, particularly if they refuse to act.  A key example of this is the president's ruling on immigration.   When the GOP refused to act on immigration reform, he declared we won't enforce the law against certain people that are clearly not criminals.  (If your parents bring you hear when you are a minor, you have not broken the law, your parents have.)  This frees the executive branch to devote precious and limited resources to pursuing actual, dangerous criminals.

If the GOP never realizes that the Democrats can fight back, that just means the President will have an easier time defeating them.  If they do, they will stop trying to extort us and start compromising.

For these four reasons, it is a bad idea to vote for Romney if your only concern is to get things done.

As a side note, much of our political structure is designed to prevent things from getting done.  That is one of the reasons we have both a Senate and a House. So a stalemate is not quite as bad as people think it is.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Political Evolution

(Note an important difference - there are three things that sometimes get confused: War, Politics, Law.  War is violent action between two governments.  Politics is the thoughts of the rulers.  Law is the actions of the rulers.   This article is about Politics, not Law, nor War.)

There are two interesting words.  Revolution vs. Evolution.

The difference is speed.  Revolution is quick.  Evolution is slow.   From the first bullet fired at Lexington and Concord (1975), to the last in in 1781 (but not officially over till the Paris Treaty of 1983) the American Revolution took six (or eight years if you use the treaty).  But that's war, not politics.  The political revolution was over by the time the war started. The first political protests started in 1764, when the Sugar Act and the Currency Act taxed sugar and outlawed colonial money printing.  So the revolutionary war took six years, but the revolutionary politics from Loyal British colonists to Patriotic American freedom fighters took eleven years.   As a side note, the Law Revolution started in 1981 with the Articles of Confederation, and ended in 1788 when it was ratified by nine of the original 13 colonies, and thus took seven years.

Nowadays wars and laws usually are quicker.  Transportation and communication is a lot faster.  But the point is that revolution is quick and evolution is slow.    Political evolution takes time.   Ten years is revolutionary speed.   So fast that it is a political revolution (often with a military one to follow).

Most major shifts take twenty years or more to occur.   Also known as a generation.   People don't change their politics, their children do.  Each generation can only end a political argument that the last one started.    You can't recruit your opponents, but you can convert their children before they grow up.

In other words, to misquote a famous cliche:

While generals fight the last war, politicians win the last cause.

There are a few exceptions, (usually caused by surprise violence/economic crisis) but most of the time, this works.  The "Sixties" brought black voting rights, the "Eighties" we got black politicians.  The "Oughts" got us a black President.

Prohibition started in January 29 of 1919, and ended on December 5th of 1933.  In other words, it took just about 15 years.  Pretty fast for a political change.  Americans really missed alcohol.

The GOP is in flux right now, still undergoing change.  Call it the T-Party evolution. It began in 2009, and will probably take 20 years to complete it.   Assuming it works.   Not all revolutions or evolutions succeed.  The opposing principle may very well defeat the T Party.

But either way, the GOP will end up radically different than it is today.

The Democrats on the other hand are not undergoing a similar change.  The "Occupy Movement", unlike the T-Party, abhors politics.  They did not want to be co-opted.  As such, it will probably take a longer time to for their movement to affect politics.  It will still affect politics, just not as quickly.

It's not only policies, but mind sets are far more important.  The Democrats have won some key battles in the hearts and minds, setting us up to win the political causes.

  1. A national healthcare policy was established, which means people will find out exactly what good healthcare can mean.  If the program works, it will end the many lies the GOP told about it (death panels, etc.), which will lead to a win in the minds of voters.  By demonstrating what real national healthcare is like, the minds will be convinced. 
  2. The death of Bin Laden may finally allow us to break free of the culture of fear. We can stop trying to counter a terrorism threat that quite frankly was never that severe (more Americans were killed by motorcycles from 2000 to 2010 than were killed by terrorist attacks - yet motorcycles are still legal and I can't bring a regular tube of toothpaste onto a plane.).
  3. The Gay Rights movement has started winning battle after battle in the state courts, and even in a legislature or two.  Instead of trying to stop new forms of anti-gay discrimination, we are finally getting rid of the most pervasive, long standing discrimination - the military's anti-gay provisions and the anti-gay marriage laws.  This is major shift - and it reflects the shift in thought among the population.
The GOP on the other hand has won some smaller victories on the Abortion front, but nothing strikingly significant.  More importantly, they are victories in Law, not in thought.  They have repeatedly lost attempts to outlaw abortion outright, and instead have focused on making it more difficult and expensive to get it.  While they have succeeded, by doing this, they are not winning the hearts and minds. Which is always the real battle.  Minor victories get over-turned by big ones. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Fail

There are three types of failed political programs.  They are very easy to distinguish between each other afterwards, but harder to do so before.  

The three types of failed programs are:

  1. Philosophically Acceptable (aka Politically Correct)
  2. Easy Solutions
  3. Masks

Note not everything that uses a 'philosophically acceptable' or 'easy' solution fails.  But most failures fall into one of these three categories.

1) A Philosophically Acceptable failed program is based on a strong philosophy.  Often that philosophy is simply wrong, but other times it is just incomplete.  In any case, the philosophy itself demands certain solutions be tried, and not others.  But the solutions it demands do not work.  

Note the words "Politically Correct" in parenthesis.   In truth that is a better way of describing the problem.  The thing is, the right has co-opted that phrase to use against the left.  But in reality the right is JUST as likely to use "Politically Correct" solutions as the left is.

When the right speaks in favor of abstinence only sex education, that is Politically Correct.  When the right says "No to Obamacare", (which is basically a slight modification of a Republican health care plan), that is Politically Correct.  When the right tries to outlaw Flag Burning, it is being Politically correct.

But the left is not itself immune to this phenomena.   I personally think the way we do Affirmative Action suffers from this same problem.

2) Easy solutions are easy.  We know the proper way to fix something, but we think they are too hard or expensive, so we take the easy way.   There  is an old joke about the guy looking for his keys under a street light, but he lost them forty feet to the east in darkness.  But he looks in the lighted area because it is easier.

Examples of this are arresting drug dealers and prostitutes, rather than their customers.  (I am not talking about the whether or not those activities should be legal, just on how we enforce the law.)  There are far fewer supplies, so it is easier and cheaper to arrest say 10% of them.   But when you do so, it drives the prices up, which makes it more profitable, which attracts new customers.  This encourages more people to break the law.  If instead you arrest the customers, not only do you take customers off the market, but you also make other customers more wary - maybe they try to use it half as often.  This drops profits and makes fewer people use their services.   At the very least, we should alternate by year - one year go against the providers, then next year go against the users.

3)  Masks.  This is when you go after the symptom, not the cause.  You are not trying to fix the problem, just mask it from view.   When you arrest the homeless or protestors, as opposed to giving them jobs, or stop doing what they are protesting against, that is Masking.

The problems are not the things that annoy you.  Those are red flags created by our culture to TELL you that a problem exists.   Problems are things that are so bad you have to live on the street, or at least protest against them.  If you aren't willing to risk jail to solve the problem, then it isn't a real problem.

Back to Prostitution.  Did you know that prostitution used to be far more common?   The reason was simple - there were few other jobs available to women and sex was harder to come by on a date.  (Read Super Freakonomics for evidence).  Teacher, Nurse, Cook, Maid, or Prostitute and that was about it.  We solved that problem by opening up more jobs  and birth control also helped by letting volunteers take over the demand. 

Here are the tell tale flags of each of the problems, and how to fix them.

1)  Your program failed because it was Philosophically Acceptable if you despise the other proposed solution.  If you think the other side is evil, but your program failed, it means you are the bad guy, you are wrong, and you need to do what that evil bastard told you to do.

Why don't people do this?  Because no one wants to admit they are wrong and the guy they think is 'evil' is in fact right.   Not the right when it talks about Abstinence Only programs, not the left when it talks about Affirmative Action.

2)  When you think the other proposed solution is too expensive, or inconvenience the wrong people.  The solution here is to spend the money, inconvenience those people, or accept the fact that the problem is going to continue and find a way to live with it.   If you don't want to solve it badly enough, don't try halfheartedly.

3)  The problem with masks is that the better you do at masking the problem, the worse the real problem becomes.  The solution again it to stop trying to brush the problem under the rug and to concentrate on the real problem, the actual cause, which you have been ignoring.

Note that last solution is remarkably effective.   If you are ever stumped, look for a root cause and work on that, as opposed to the symptom.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Deficit Math

Every once in a while, someone tries to trot out a list of things the government spends money on.  They pick out things to cut - either entirely or merely reducing the amount spent.  They then pretend they have solved the problem by cutting fat, not muscle.  The thing is, they tend to lie - not about the numbers but how they present the numbers.  I thought I'd go through one such list to show you the lies and tricks they use.

I am looking at one attributed to VP Nominee Paul Ryan, but actually proposed by Representative Jim Jordan of  Ohio.  It is fairly typical, containing multiple deceptions.

1)  One off items.  The list in question contains some one off items.  I.E.  things that we can do only once, not every year, so while it might help with the national debt a little bit, it won't actually affect the deficit, which is the real problem.  It's like selling your old clothing.   It helps pay off the credit cards, but doesn't stop you from over-spending.   This list for example includes the idea of selling off 'excess' Federal Property.  Assuming that property in question really is 'excess' - i.e. commercial and not in use, a rather than park space, then we can only do it once.  This accounted for 15 billion dollars - the single highest number (aside from the grand total at the end).

That right there is a red flag, showing that the creator of the list is trying to deceive us. The single biggest cut you want to make should not be a one-off, not if your plan is actually intended to actually solve the problem, as opposed to just scoring some political points.

Which brings me to his next attempt to deceive the American People.  The last line is (underline added):

* Total Savings:  $2.5 Trillion over Ten Years.

2)  Multiple years analysis.

The budget is a yearly thing.  Among other things, it gets changed every year.  Why did Mr. Jordan total it up over ten years?  Because his numbers are so small that they don't do.  So he multiplied them by ten to make it seem like they were significant.  THEY AREN'T.

To further confuse the matter, some of the things he talked about were over ten years, but most were over one years.  The only reason to do this was to make small things look bigger.  As a result, all he did was confuse people.

The current US National Debt is over 16,182,000,000,000  That would be 16 Trillion dollars.   The US yearly Budget Deficit is about 1.1 trillion dollars.  We are adding tot he debt by about 6.25% a year. His 2.5 trillion sounds like a lot, but that's over ten years.  When you divide by 10, to get the yearly amount it comes out to only 0.25 trillion, or less than one quarter of what we need to cut. 

Not very impressive.  Not impressive at all. Lets bring those numbers down to something reasonable.  If you found that last year you overspent by $1000, and some idiot suggest you don't have to cut back, just stop wasting $250 a year, you would laugh at the guy and say "So you only want me to overspend by $750 a year?"

No.  We need to cut the budget deficit by the full $1.1 trillion.  Doing it by 1/4 doesn't make any sense. 

3)  Include tiny amounts.    Next, when you go over his list you see a whole bunch of tiny stuff.  Remember, we are trying to get rid of $1 trillion deficit.  Talking about millions is stupid.  A trillion is one thousand billion.  A billion is one thousand million.  A thousandth of a thousands is nothing.  If the deficit was $1,000, then the equivelent of millions, would be a tenth of a penny.  If it isn't at least 50 cents, don't talk about it.    Fifty cents out of $1,000 translates to $500 million in the US budget.Rep.  Jordan included things as low as $1 million annual savings (Mohair Subsidies).

Why did he did do this?  Because the small things often seem silly and the uninformed are impressed by the word 'million'.  They think it is a lot, but it isn't, not when we are talking about trillions.

Yes, Mohair is a silly thing to subsidies - that's why the liar Representative Jordan put it on the list.  But the amount of money is so small (less than 1/3 of one cents per American citizen), that it isn't worth talking about.  Cutting it doesn't do anything to the budget at all.   Why do we do fund it?  I am sure it was put in to get some congressman's vote on a major bill.  It's a single sprinkle to make something else more palatable. We spend more on each congressman's office.   As per this new story, 13 North Carolina Congressmen spent $4.3 million every 3 months, or about $16 million a year, or $1.23 million per congressman per year.

So that means Representative Jordan probably spent more more this year on his staff than we spent on Mohair.  At least the Mohair subsidy wasn't spent trying to deceive American citizens.

4)  List programs without telling us how much money.  Presumably because they are even less than one million.  Things like the HUD Ph.D Program  or the Deficit Reduction Check-Off Act.  If you can't be bothered to tell us how much it would save, then don't include it in the list. 

5)  Don't show the entire list or show your math.  By not showing the math, it means he is leaving out the important stuff.     Below is the list of just the expensive things (over $500 million) the artful Representative wanted to cut   They total to a mere 29 billion dollars a year.  Far short of the 250 billion he claimed as a total.  I know, some of you are thinking that if he has enough stuff less than 1/2 a billion, it might add up to the other things.  You are right.   But if everything else was exactly 1/2 a billion, then he would need another (250-29 = 231  / 0.5 = 462) 462 items.  But he didn't list 462 items. Why not?  Because most of the things he wrote about are important to people and we would laugh at him for trying to cut them.  

Program Billions in savings >
Amtrack 1.565
"Duplicative Education" 1.3
Community Development 4.5
1/2 Federal Travel Budget 7.5
Federal Vehicle Budget by 20% 0.6
Department Energy Weatherization grants 0.53
New Starts Transit 2
Intercity High Speed Rail 2.5
National Community Services Act 1.15
Applied Research DOE 1.27
US Agency International Development 1.39
Davis Bacon Act 1
Cut IRS Budget by 1.8
Collection unpaid taxes by federal employees 1
ObamaCare Admin costs 0.9
Total of yearly savings: 29.005
Plus the one time stuff:

Federal Office space acquisition 0.864
Sell excess Federal Property 15 (one time)

The actual truth is you can't cut the deficit without cutting bone as well as fat. Because the amount of fat in the budget is relative low. The six main budget items are Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Defense, Interest on the debt, and Pensions.  You want to cut the deficit?  You need to cut something on that list. Compared to other developed countries, the US overspends on Defense, but not on any of the other stuff. It's not that hard to figure out what we need to cut.

We need to reduce Defense spending.  Start by cutting any program that Congress insists on funding even if the Defense Department says they don't want.  

The article linked above listed four programs:  Global Hawk Block 30 drone program, C-27J Spartan cargo aircraft, upgrades to the M1 Abrams tank, Air National Guard funding and the proposed East Coast missile defense system.   These programs don't cost a huge amount.  But they are an honest start.

To me, I think we need to look at each of the military branches.   The navy is relatively easy to pick on, because they tend to buy single big ticket items.  I will discuss them, but similar cost reductions should be done to the Army and the Air Force.   China and Russia each have only one Aircraft Carrier.  Spain and Italy each have two.  No other country has more than one.    Except the United States.  We have eleven.  Do we really need to have more than 5 times as much as any other single country?  More than five times greater than China and Russia combined?  Cut it down to 9. That lets us put two in the northern Pacific, two in the southern Pacific, one in North Atlantic, one in the South Atlantic,  one in the Indian ocean, one in the Mediterranean, and still have one back home being serviced.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The future of the GOP and the coming One Party government

For most of my life I strongly believed in the value of a two party system.

We need not just a party in power, but a loyal opposition.

The problem is the GOP has refused to be a loyal opposition.  The key revelation is the birther movement.

A loyal opposition by definition accepts the other side's right to be in power.  It recognizes that they won the election reasonably fairly and that they must accept that fact.

The actual problem began with Al Gore's contested election.   It raised the stakes in the game.  But eventually the Democrats put it behind them.   The birther issues continues to exist four years after it was first raised.  The fact that it was originally raised by a racist democrat is irrelevant.  It's continued existence, in the form of lawsuits, etc. has revealed that the GOP is not a loyal opposition.

It is a disloyal opposition.  It talked about 'second amendment solutions', and 'reloading' back in 2010/2011

They had their goal not being the betterment of the country, but taking power back.

They passed 'Voter ID' laws designed not to stop fraud, but to stop Democrats from voting (see previous posts here)

All of these things show how the GOP has ceased being a 'loyal opposition' and become just the 'enemy'.

But they don't interfere with actual government.  The real problem is that we don't have the loyal opposition.

You see, the main benefit of the loyal opposition is that they force the party in power to make reasonable compromises.  Instead of pushing in new taxes with no spending cuts, they get something to counteract the extreme part of the opponent's views.

They are not supposed to insist on the extreme benefits themselves, thereby killing any action.

Not the new GOP.  They don't compromise - they still won't accept $1 in new taxes for $10 in spending cuts.

They think by standing firm, they can get what they want.  But when someone refuses to compromise, that doesn't make the other side cave, it makes the other side act unilaterally.   The GOP tried, and failed.  So instead of giving the GOP the $10 in spending cuts that Obama was willing to offer, Obama s going to do something much harsher.   Maybe we simply get the new taxes with no spending cuts.  Maybe we get new taxes with minor spending cuts.

The GOP thinks the people will blame Obama.  They won't.  The GOP established itself as the bad guy - the guy that won't compromise.  Instead, the GOP will get the blame for failing to do it's job.

Which is appropriate because that is exactly what is happening - the GOP is failing to do it's job of being the Loyal Opposition.

That means it is there job to prevent the Party in Power from going extreme.

Which is what happened with Obamacare.  The thing is, when you go extreme, the bad consequences usually don't show up right away.  They develop over years, just like Bush's problems.  The DNC is going to have to deal with those extremes over the next 8 years, not right away.

During that time, the GOP is going to lose a lot of support.   It's going to take some time - the oldsters remember the good old days when the GOP was reasonable.  But every year, the old guard dies or retires.  The new guard are all radical extremists.  They will turn off the moderates, particularly the younger voters.

Combine this with the growth of the Hispanic population, and the GOP is in trouble over the long term.

Over the next 10 years, the GOP is going to start losing voters.  If they don't fix the problem, then starting in 2020 or so, they are going to start losing elections, not to mention  fundraising problems.

This doesn't mean the GOP won't every hold power.  They have a strong current base and can, under the right circumstance take control of the government.  They might even win.  But their refusal to compromise means neither side is going to get anything substantial done unless they have near total control over the government.

This means the US is going to have to figure out how to exist as a single party government, rather than a two-party system. 

P.S.  One way to tell if someone is being reasonable or just being a jerk is to see if their compromise lives up their rhetoric, or if it goes against the grain.  If a spouse insists that a new car would be too expensive, then insists that if you do get one, it must be red because they 'compromised' about getting it in the first place, then something is wrong.   Why do hey care about the new car's color at all?  If you don't want a new car, then the compromise because of the money, then they compromise by spending less money - perhaps on a used car.  They give up the right to argue about the color and make if they insist it's about money.

Similarly, when arguing about the budget, if you insist you want to control the deficit, then you lose the right argue about new taxes vs spending cuts.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why James Madison was wrong.

James Madison, was one of the founders of our country.  He started out in favor of a strong national government, than switched, preferring a strong state government.  I.e.  he went from being a liberal to a conservative.  He is one of the favorites of the GOP, as opposed to Hamilton, who stayed a Federalist.

He once said, regarding Democracy:    "It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury."

But look at today's American politics.   Is he right?  Has that happened?  Nope. Two words there - majority and largess.  As per Romney, only 47% of the population gets money.  As in a minority.  In fact, not a single federal program applies to the majority of the current population (except for things clearly in the national interest, such as the military, roads, etc.).  More importantly, that money doesn't come from a single program, it comes from many smaller targeted programs.

The majority is not stupid.  We know we can't vote ourselves the largess.

Our current system votes largess to the MINORITIES, not the majorities.  Because we know the tax system can do that.   It doesn't make sense to give money to the government just to have the government give it back to us.  It does make sense for the government to give money back to certain groups.

To convince the majority to grant largess to the minorities, we try to prove they are one of the following two categories:  1)  'good investment' or 2) deserving and needy minorities.

So far, in the US, those categories include the elderly, the poor, and farmers, and oil companies - among other things.

James Madison got it wrong.  He warned against the wrong thing, at least for the US.  His basic understanding of people underestimated them.  We are all smart enough to understand the basic concept that money doesn't grow on trees, that the government's money comes from our taxes.

So the next question, is what if we fix his mistake?  Is his concern still valid?

Madison's quote , edited for reality: < It can only exist until all the of minorities, that as a whole make up the majority, discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. >

That is one the GOP claims is going on now.  That a bunch of minorities, that make up, to quote Romney, 47% of the population voted themselves largess out of the public treasury.   Are we are only hanging on by a slight thread of 4%?  Just 4% more minorities voting themselves largess, and as per Madison, out Democracy will cease to exist!

Wait a sec, it sounds fairly strange don't you think?  Note the odd phrasing.  "all the of minorities, that as a whole make up the majority".  Yeah, I know I wrote it that way (straw man),  but the concept is accurate and revealing.

What's the difference between a majority and "all the of minorities, that as a whole make up the majority"

Two things.  1) corporations will never be a party of the majority.  They aren't American citizens no matter what the courts think, they can't vote, they can't be born.  2)  It's a mindset for people.  The elderly and the poor think of themselves as elderly and poor - but more importantly other people think of them as elderly and poor.   These things count, both to them and to the rest of the electorate.  They need the money and we as a culture think they deserve it.

Now for the real question, does the modified Madison quote make any sense?  No.   It doesn't.  Democracies CAN take money and give it to corporations, the elderly and the poor. There is nothing sacred or even unusual about the magic value of 50% - there is just shame.  Shame that over 50% of the country is thought of as either a good investment or a deserving and needy minority.  

But shame doesn't bring down governments.

Madison was 100% wrong.  Government's job is to take money from us all and spend it on important things.  Sometimes it needs to buy stuff with that money, other times it just needs to give it away.  Because Sometimes the goal is not to get something back for the money, but instead to obtain things that money can't buy.   Things like a world where children and grandparents don't die of starvation or exposure.  Another thing that money can't buy is a safe world, where radical extremists can't gather and revolt against the cruelties and injustices that our system can generate if we remove the safe guards.   These things are important not just to me, not just to Democrats, but to all Americans. 


Friday, October 12, 2012

Crime and the Kitchen

Cleaning up crime and cleaning your kitchen have a lot in common.

  1. They are both never-ending tasks
  2. You can never totally eliminate all crime or germs
  3. There are people actively making your job harder, often simultaneous with your efforts to clean it up
  4. Your job is usually secondary to the 'real work', but when you screw up, it becomes a priority.

But there are lots of lessons to be learned from the kitchen.

First of all, you don't need to have it spotless.   Particularly not while it is in full use.  

Second of all, you can't let it get too bad.  The real problems start happening when you let it go for too long and the grime goes from small colonies to visible fungus.

Third of all, the cleaner you keep it, the easier it gets, because other people are less likely to make it dirty if they see it as clean

Fourth, chances are, in both cases you will make mistakes and clean up 'innocent' items/people.  Someone won't be done with the pizza and you throw it out  - or you will arrest the innocent person.  This should be avoided at all cost, and you must accept responsibility for when you do it.  Denying or covering it up just makes things far worse.  You also may need to buy someone an entirely new pizza because you threw out the one they weren't finished with.  Yes, it's expensive, but it's what you need to do to make it right.

What does this have to do with politics?  Well, people don't treat crime like cleaning up the kitchen.  They insist on it being spotless, they give up on the areas that got too bad, as opposed to cleaning them up, they refuse to admit it's easier to clean the 'nice' areas and they cover up the mistakes all the time.

When the candidates talk about crime, you need to keep this in mind.

There is no such thing as 'soft' on crime.  There is no such thing as "hard on crime".

There is such a thing as being too much of a perfectionist just as you can be too lenient.   But the perfectionist always costs too much money and the lenient guy saves money only at the cost of heightened risk.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More about Voter ID laws

Recently  a Pennsylvania judge delayed their Voter ID law till next year, because it was likely to suppress voter turnout.  S

Once again, I state that Voter ID laws are not necessarily evil, just the ones the GOP has pushed.  The GOP led laws are designed not to catch fraud, but instead to suppress Democrat votes.  Democrats are not against Voter ID laws per se, just the voter suppression versions the GOP has enacted.

For comparison purposes, lets look at the Voter ID law Rhode Island - a Democrat controlled state legislature - created.  (Source)

1)  The first year (i..e. this presidential election), they were more generous.  They let you use bank statements, utility statements, student IDs, etc. or even government issued documents without photos (such as birth certificates, social security cards), as ID.

2) Starting in 2014,, they will require photo IDS - but will continue to accept Government issued Medical cards and School IDs.

3)  If you don't have the ID, you get a provisional ballot which will be have the signature scrutinized.  If it is deemed a forgery, the ballot is rejected. If it is found to be valid, the ballot will be accepted. You don't have to show up or take any actions, they are just analyzing your signature, not your identity.  No forcing people without transportation to attend meetings, or costing them anything (time or money).

Compare this with Pennsylvania law:

  • Pennsylvania lets you disqualify them if the name on the ID does not match the name on the voter registration (left unclear how exact it must be).  It never accepts medical cards, though it does accept certain student IDs (not all - they must have a photo and an expiration date).
  • Starts right away, so no leniency for the first year.
  • The person must appear at the county board with ID and submit affidavits.  This costs them time and either money or a lot of extra time and effort to prove they are poor.
Those differences matter.  No learning curve, harsher rules and harsher standards for rejection all work to prevent legitimate voters from voting?

Why?  Because the Rhode Island Democrats aren't trying to illegally suppress votes.  The Republicans on the other hand...

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Debate - Will it Affect the Vote?

My opinion has consistently been that the polls are correct, there are more Democrats out there that are committed to voting.  For this reason the undecided do not matter as much as they usually do.   The president is relying on a coalition of left leaning Democrats and moderates while actively presenting a sane, non-extreme platform to discourage republicans from voting.    It pretty much worked, in part because the GOP's candidate is Mormon, which by itself greatly undermines one of the GOP's large constituencies, the  radical religious right.

The president did absymially in the debate.  He was honest and thoughtful, but also boring, nerdy, and unsocial.  Nothing surprising there. 

Mitt Romney did well in the debate.  He lied about numbers, changed long standing opinions, but maintained good eye contact and otherwise played to the crowd.  Nothing very surprising there.

What they did was typical, but how extremely they did it was not expected.  The result was Romney dominated the social aspects of the debate and the population doesn't care all that much about the facts.

But given the President's election plan, it seems to be irrelevant.

The GOP does not need to convince the undecided to vote for them.  They don't matter that much in this election.

They need to convince the reluctant conservatives to vote for them.  Pedaling a softer, less conservative Romney (which they did) won't do that.

They need to convince Obama's Democrats that the GOP isn't that bad.  But the Democrats aren't voting against Romney, they are either voting:

  1. Against the conservative anti: gay, abortion, racist agenda
  2. Against the GOP's extreme 'no compromise' (not even $10 in program cuts for $1 in tax hikes)
  3. For the first Black President
  4. For the President that killed Bin Laden
  5. For the President that got us out of Iraq
  6. For ObamaCare
 None of that has changed.  Romney can't change any of it.  Not in a debate, not ever.

Romney can only win via a major, major setback for the President.   This isn't anywhere near bad enough.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why the Polls Show So Many Democrats Voting

Right now, most non-partisan politics show Obama ahead.  Mainly because a larger than normal number of people called say they are Democrats and very likely to vote.  Certain Republicans refuse to accept this fact and ignore the actual responses they get.  Instead they use old data (excluding 2008 when lots of extra Democrats voted) to estimate how many democrats will actually vote. Normally they just accept people's statements about how likely they are to vote.  Yes, some people are wrong, but they tend to be just as many democrats mistaken about whether or not they actually are going to vote as republicans.

 So the question is why are there so many extra democrats claiming they will vote?

As I have written earlier,  there are four things politicians try to do.  To recap (in order of difficulty):

  1. Get support from your base
  2. Get support from the undecided
  3. Get your opponent's base to not vote
  4. Convert your opponent's base for you

Obama has a solid base of liberals.  Originally this was from a combination of good speaking skills and his skin color.  Then his successful implementation of a much desired health care reform bill, combined with the success overseas in both military and diplomatic issues (Yes, the GOP dislikes his success - just as much as us liberals disliked how the Conservatives ran foreign policy.  But even they can't deny killing Bin Laden is a success and a bigger one than George Bush ever had.)

Obama has failed to get the opponent's base to vote for him.  That is pretty clear.   In large part because of a rather strong anti-Obama campaign that the GOP has run, starting from the second he won the presidency.

But that campaign has cost them.  Specifically it turned off a lot of their own people.  The GOP pushed themselves to the far right at the local level but they then realized such an ultra-conservative party could not win the independents in a national election.  They tried to pick a moderate candidate to counter this, but this strategy failed.  It pissed off their new, smaller, ultra-conservative base, and the moderate candidate could not move far enough to the left to win over independents, or even the many conservative ex-Republicans.  Charlie Crist is the poster child for this.  If you kick out the well respected republican governor of a swing state that you absolutely need to win, and replace him with a more conservative person, it indicates you have a real problem.  At least if you want to win the presidency.

Combined with Obama's campaign, this resulted in two things.

First, Obama converted many of the 'undecided' to Obama supporters.   That is why in his original election he got so much higher turnout among Blacks and Young Adults.  Those people used to be undecided - that's why they didn't vote. This turnout failed to stay strong for the 2010 midterms, so the the GOP thought the Democrats had lost it.  They are wrong - the turnout was for Obama, not for the Democrats and Obama did not run in 2010.  He is running again this year, so the turnout will come back.

But wait, you say, the undecided voters this year are going for Romney. 

True.  That is because he converted many undecided to Obama Democrats.  When polled they call themselves Democrats because they are strong supporters of Obama.   But that's not all.  Then, the GOP kicked all the "RINO's"  out (Republican In Name Only).  See Charlie Crist above.   Most of these ex-republicans did not become Democrats, they became 'undecided'.  At least this time around.  Give them four more years and they may sign up with the DNC.  At least if the GOP continues it's campaign to push the moderates out.

(Numbers in this next paragraph are pulled out of my @$$ for illustrative purposes.)  So say Obama took about 3% of the undecided voters and converted them to Obama supporters.  Then suppose the GOP pushed away about 6% of their base into undecided.   So suddenly the 'undecided' are now 9% more likely to lean toward Romney and the GOP is happy.  The truth is the DNC gained a solid 3% and the GOP had 6% turn soft.  (Numbers corrected for bad math on my part - but they are still made up.)

It's not about who people lean towards who in the polls, it's who they actually vote for.

Obama has FAR more people heavily supporting him than past democrats have.  Romney has far less people moderately supporting him than past Republicans have.

This is why the polls show more democrats will be voting this year than in past years.  Certain Republicans (Rasmussen polls among them) fail to admit this is actually happening.   They look around among their friends and see that the far-right zealots that remain in their party hate Obama and strongly want to replace him.  But they ignore the fact that half their friends have left the party and become 'undecided' that weakly supports the GOP.

That weak support is worthless.  It doesn't vote.  It doesn't pay cash.  It just looks nice in the polls.

The GOP is looking at the small core base with strong support, and the wide spread weak support and confusing the two.   It doesn't matter how much your tiny core hates someone, it matters how many people agree with you.  And most of the conservatives people that dislike Obama are saying "I wish we had Reagan, do I have to vote for Romney?"  And the answer to that is no.  They don't have to vote for Romney.  They don't have to vote for Obama.  They can stay home.

Now, fervor for Obama has cooled a bit.  But nowhere near as much as as fervor for the GOP has cooled.  More importantly, there was NEVER fervor for Romney.   No one ever wanted him as badly as the Democrats wanted Obama in 2008.   Obama people are not saying "Do we have to vote for Obama?"  Instead we say "I wish Obama was doing better.  But I can't stand the GOP."

Part of the problem is the internet.  It makes all small group look a lot bigger than it actually is.  The GOP has fooled itself by looking through the lens of the internet.

The Democrats have the numbers, if not the fervor.  We will win 2012.  While the GOP will sit in disbelief saying "but but but Democrats don't vote!"

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Problem with Personhood Laws

Several states have created person-hood laws, and others are trying.  They are in effect an end-run against the SCOTUS ruling legalizing abortion.   Declare someone to be a 'person' and you can charge anyone that kills them with murder, as opposed to abortion.

First let me congratulate the creators for a well thought out plan.   The question is, why didn't they do this in the first place?  Instead of making abortion illegal, just charge the doctor with murder?   Because if you don't believe the embryo is a person, then abortion should be legal, and the defense just have to prove reasonable doubt.

There only reason they has specific 'anti-abortion' laws was the problem in convincing a jury that an embryo was a person.  They originally solved it by making specific laws against abortion, as opposed to declaring them a person.  Person-hood laws seems on the face to be a superior solution.

But sorry, these laws are unconstitutional.

You see, if the individual states have the legal authority to declare someone a person, than by definition they also have the legal right to declare someone NOT a person and that they therefore do not have any rights.   If you can make it illegal to kill someone by declaring them a person, then the same state could also make it legal to to kill someone by declaring them not a person.

We fought a civil war over this issue.  A bunch of racists declared slaves to not be people - in fact they declared them to be three fifths of a person, as per Article I, Section 2. of the original Constitution, at least for census purposes.

But let's ignore this glaring problem.

So, what US constitutional laws prevent the states from declaring someone a person - and by definition, declaring someone not a person.

Well, The 14th Amendment (passed July 9th, 1868 - just after the Civil War) says:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

This declares who is a citizen and not a citizen, with the word 'person' a key part of the definition.  You need to have been born or naturalized.  The unborn don't qualify and can't qualify as a citizen.  They clearly are not citizens and have not rights.  But perhaps you could argue that it lets the states decide what the word 'person' means.   But you see, lawyers have tried this trick before.  Hell, even Bill Clinton tried it ("It depends on the meaning of the word 'is'.")  Judges are wise to this trick.

The states can't deny these rights to any person.   This also means they can't give those privileges.  The state of New York can't suddenly declare some random immigrant to be a citizen, the constitution reserves that power to the federal government. 

Let's say I am wrong.  Say the states can decide who is and who is not a person.   Then the State of Montana could declare all cows people.  Montana has 967,440 human and over 2.6 million cattle.  Suddenly, Montana has tripled it's population.  The cows were born  in the US, so by the constition, they become citizens.   Obviously Montana declares them wards of the state and unable to vote.  But the state can insists on getting 3x the number of congressman and 3x the number of electoral votes.  Not to mention Federal money, including Medicaid, unemployment, welfare, etc. all for the benefit of their new 'persons'.

What, cows too ridiculous?  What about living cell samples taken from a live human?  Can the state culture 2,000,000 of them and declare each one a person?  No. Not even if the cells are surgically removed from the womb of a willing woman (technically 'born').

It is fairly obvious why the states can not do this.   It is unconstitutional for the states to define legal language.  They can suggest, they can offer advice, but the judges decide what the words mean.

Article II, Section of the US Constitution gives the Supreme Court Judges the right to interpret the Constitution, NOT the states.  It says "The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;..."

Judges, not the states, determine the meaning of words for legal purposes.  The states can't override the judges decisions.  The states legislature can try to influence them, but the can not change the legal definition of words that are important to the Constitution.  They can't declare women to be cattle, they can't declare cattle to be people, and they can;t declare unborn embryos to be people.     Which means the states can not decide who is and is not a person.  Because if they could, they could declare cows (or horses, or pigs, etc)  to be people, thus granting them right to be counted under the Census, giving a state too many electoral votes.

The only way to get a legal person-hood bill into law is to over-ride the Supreme Court.  That takes an Amendment to the United States Constitution, nothing less.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Phrasing matters

Would you vote for someone that had the gall to suggest we tax 'job creators'?

How about someone that says we tax "wealthy people that pay less tax than the middle class does?"

Phrasing matters.  Exact words carry implications.  There is huge difference between "barely a million dollars" and "more than a million dollars".  Not to mention the difference between "Illegal" vs."Undocumented" immigrants (particularly when many of those involved did not commit a crime - if your parents illegally bring you across the border, you never broke the law, they did.)

In addition, you can use phrasing to get people to believe a lie is true, without actually saying the lie.   People support "Energy Exploration" more than they support "Oil Drilling".   In part because "Energy Exploration" implies it includes other things besides oil drilling - but the laws and bills for Energy Exploration don't actually include those other things.

There's always the half hardhearted denial "I take him at his word" instead of saying you believe he is correct.  Or "I have no evidence to contradict".  Of course, this can backfire if used to the extreme, as in "It depends on what the meaning of the words 'is' is."

People don't like to be manipulated.

So, how do you do it right?

Well, it helps if you go with the prejudice.  It's a lot harder to create a new one.   That's one of the major problems with 'job creators'.   People aren't stupid enough to believe that all wealth people create jobs.  We live in the real world and we know about outsourcing, downsizing.

But it's not the truth that rules, it's the current opinion.   Otherwise "liberal" would never have been used as an insult.

The trick is to walk the fine line close to what what people already believe, but on the side you want to emphasize.  You make small movements and over time, it moves the people.  Too big a move and you go backwards.

Let's say you wanted to support Puerto Rico as the 51th state (they will be voting come November).   You can talk about how all American citizens should have the right to vote for who is President of the United States.

If you are against it, you call them "Puerto Ricans".   Both terms are technically correct, but when you talk about "all American Citizens" you get more support for the idea, as opposed to "Puerto Ricans".

This can clearly be seen in polls.  Different phrasing gets different results. People try to use these polls to shift the discussion among the media, or to try and solidify weak support.  Do you vote against "socialized healthcare" or in favor of "guaranteed healthcare for all"?

So here are some basic rules for detecting/designing phrases that push your opinion.

1) Over-inclusive words bring thoughts and opinions unrelated to the real topic to bear on the issue.  "Energy Exploration" and "Job Creators" are good examples.  So are "pro-choice" and 'pro-life".

2)  Emotional impact words (as opposed to intellectual impact) can shift opinions as well. Probably my favorite is the use of the word "Death Tax" as opposed to "inheritance tax".  We don't tax the dead, we tax the heirs not the dead, yet somehow the GOP made popular the emotionally charged word "Death Tax".

3) Look for 'replacement' of old words.  If someone is trying to change the word used, more than often that means they want to push your attitude.   Discrimination terminology is famous for this "handicapable vs handicapped". 

4) Look for words that imply the opposite of what they mean.  There is a huge difference between "Pro-Life" and "Anti-Abortion".   The movement is not "pro" anything, it is against abortion.  They want the "pro" to imply they are in favor of something when in fact they are against something.