Monday, July 30, 2012

My response to the Chick-fil-A kerfuffle

It's spelled Chick-fil-A.  Not any other wrong combination that you would want to type.

Thanks.

Now supporting gay marriage....

The Democratic Party has announced that they will add gay marriage to their platform.  As Nate Silver has pointed out before, the majority of Americans support gay marriage.  Harry Reid announced earlier that he thought the language to add gay marriage to the platform would be considered in the new platform draft.  I believe that I was wrong and too quick to judge when I said Barack Obama's stance on gay marriage was not a politically driven one.  While I am optimistic that Obama's stance arrived because of careful thought and realization, I don't think it's clear to say that it's the case.  While I am proud of the Democratic Party to formally announce that they're adding it to the platform, it certainly smells like a political move.  It's beginning to feel more and more like rights are only guaranteed if the majority supports it. This is both an extremely depressing and a happy occasion.

Update: My view is extremely cynical.  I will note that the right action even if it's made by the wrong thought process deserves to be praised. 

Update II: I wonder if they would have added it to their platform if the Republicans wouldn't have stated that they are trying to push for a Constitutional Amendment that bans gay marriage?

Something Interesting to Me

According opensecrets.org, the Nebraska Senate race is top 5 in elections for spending excluding party committees and 4th in the country for election with the most outside spending excluding party committees if you exclude the presidential election.  Of the $3.3 million, $1.75 million is for Deb Fischer (I'm using the figures under against dems and for repubs) and $1.55 million is for Bob Kerrey.  For a race that's shaping up to focus exclusively on who is a true Nebraskan, it's an awful lot of money being thrown around from people outside the state.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Vice-Presidential Power Rankings

After a few weeks off from my favorite thing to post, I've brought back the vice-presidential power rankings.  While Romney has not said much about who he plans to name as his vice-president, there has been rampant speculation from journalists, political scientists, and political analysts as to who he might name.  I have my own speculation and I'll post who I think the leading contenders are, yet again.  We're listing the top 5, this time. 

1. Rob Portman: Portman was the initial favorite to get the nod because of his hearly support for Romney, including running fundraisers while Romney was trying to sew up the Republican presidential nomination in Ohio.  Portman is a current senator from Ohio who also served in foreign policy posts for former president George W. Bush.  Portman also fits the qualification for being a pro-life candidate.  While Portman is not seen as a particularly sexy name for the vice-presidential nomination, he is someone who shores up Romney's foreign policy ideas, also someone who is a hard-worker, and is by all accounts, a no-nonsense individual.  As an added bonus, Portman is from the critical swing state of Ohio.  While the VP's home state effects is generally overstated, if there is a favorable candidate, the vice-president might be able to make up around 2% in the state.  With recent polls showing that Romney is behind Obama in Ohio, the next few months will be critical for Romney to try and get the state to about a 1-2% margin and hope for the best with Portman cutting the rest of the margin.  Winning Ohio will be critical for the Romney campaign, if he wants to win the presidential election.  It's certainly possible for Romney to win the election without Ohio, but it gets more difficult, meaning Romney would have to win a number of swing states that are seen to be anywhere from leaning Obama to likely Obama. 

2. Tim Pawlenty: Becoming the favorite to among many journalists and writers to get the VP nomination because of his suddenly close friendship with Mitt Romney.  We'll note yet again, it's historically very rare for two governors to make up a presidential ticket.  That certainly doesn't make it impossible but there's a lack of historical precedent to fall back on.  Pawlenty is a fire-brand in the Joe Biden mold of vice-presidents.  Pawlenty would certainly bring some excitement to the Republican base and might be allowed to attack the Obama administration publicly while serving as a Romney surrogate.  What else does Pawlenty bring to the table?  Minnesota primarily votes Democrat for their president.  But Obama might be slipping there, as well.  A new poll put out shows that Obama only has a six point lead in the state, marking the first time that he is not ahead by double digits.  Obama still has a 88% chance of winning the state, according to Nate Silver, New York Times blogger extraordinaire.  Silver also notes that Minnesota is similar to Wisconsin demographically and politically.  He notes that it is likely that those twenty electoral votes will move in tandem in this election.  Additional resources will be brought in by both parties to get more polling there, as it is not polled very heavily and is generally ignored by pollsters.  Republicans might be wary of investing too much in Minnesota as it failed in 2008 but naming Pawlenty as the vice-president after putting significant resources in there already for polling information will show that the Romney campaign means business.  If Romney can bring the deficit down to 1-2%, Pawlenty might be the game changer as both a firebrand and bringing multiple states to the table.  I'll also note that polls are showing that Michigan is also showing a very close race and it's possible that Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan move as a trio in this election.  Michigan differs politically and demographically from Minnesota and Wisconsin, but Romney might be able to close the gap in Michigan, too, if the effects of a birth state are real.  By naming Pawlenty, this might be what Romney imagines.

3. Marco Rubio: Rubio has been the person I thought was the favorite since Romney first won the Republican presidential nomination but I'm no longer convinced that he's the guy.  Unless, he's chosen, then ignore this paragraph.  Rubio is young, is a member of multiple Senate committees for foreign policy, one of the most outspoken critics of immigration policy, brings diversity to the ballot (it's what Romney's adviser said they would be looking for), and is from a key battleground state (Florida).  Romney has already been critical of Obama's immigration policy and having Rubio there to  be another critic would certainly sound a little bit better.  Here's why I no longer believe Rubio is the favorite (presented in a numbered argument because that's more fun):
1. Rubio is young and might be considered inexperienced.  What the Romney campaign has been mainly focusing on is Obama's lack of experience as a senator and is a bumbling buffoon as a president.  Rubio was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and has only been a senator for two years.  Romney is already going to be criticized for not being ready to be President, the worst thing he could do is name a younger person to be his running mate.
2. Rubio might not stay on script.  Romney's campaign is going to be focusing on limiting the number of gaffes and inconsistencies (see above).  Rubio might not agree with Romney on every issue particularly foreign policy and immigration reform.
3. This might hurt Rubio politically.  If the Romney/Rubio ticket doesn't do well, it seems likely that the blame will be placed on someone.  It could easily be placed on Rubio because Obama is running in such a difficult economic environment.  I don't want to speak for Rubio but he seems like the type of person who aspires to run for president or for a higher office, still.  Being the vice-presidential nomination in a losing campaign may not help.
4. Alliterative presidential campaigns lack a historical precedent.

4. Bobby Jindal: he's apparently becoming quite chummy with Romney.  He brings diversity to the presidential campaign on the Republican side, as well.  He's also very young.  He's the governor of Louisiana and so that lacks the precedent.  Additionally, Jindai does not bring a swing state to the table so it doesn't help Romney there.  Jindal, I think, is a favorite for the 2016 presidential nomination if Romney loses.  Jindal has been talked about in Republican circles for years, giving his reaction to Obama's State of the Union address, among others.  Back then, I assumed that he was the Republican answer to Obama.  Jindal has been praised by many for how he handled Louisiana after their natural disasters and so his age might not be a factor because of how much he has been praised. I think he makes the least amount of sense among the top 5 for the vice-president ticket, so of course, he will be named.

5. Paul Ryan: I don't think Romney goes down this route, either, but I would like to mention him briefly.  Ryan is most famous for proposing a radical budget plan that Democrats mischaracterized as ending Medicare.  If Romney is going to run on the idea that the budget is going to be one of his biggest issues, it would make sense to name Ryan.  Ryan, who is the chair of the Budget Committe in the House, also is a member of the subcommittee on Health and Means, a former economic policy analyst, and a former speechwriter would be an interesting combination to run with Romney.  But Ryan seems very young, he is only 42, even though he has been in Congress since 1998.  Ryan brings the problem of not necessarily wanting to stay on script with the Romney campaign and might not necessarily agree with Romney on every issue.  He is also an easy target for Democrats attacking him about his budget plan, even if they're in the wrong.  More likely, if Romney wins, you might see Romney float out Ryan's name for a position similar to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. 

Honorable mentions: Kelly Ayotte (too young, might not be able to handle the scrutiny of a national campaign, might be unfairly compared to Sarah Palin, from the Northeast, not huge name recognition), Michele Bachmann (won't bring too many moderates or undecideds to the table, might be too conservative, prone to gaffes, not exactly a Republican favorite fter her latest remarks about the Islamist takeover in the State Department), Scott Walker (a governor, young, inexperienced, have enough problem with union voting for Republicans), Rick Santorum (too religious for Romney, be hard to step away from the attacks he made on Romney, won't bring moderates), Rick Perry (governor, prone to gaffes, attacked Romney, etc.), Rand Paul (young, might not stay on script, questions about racist comments), Jim DeMint (inexperienced, won't bring moderates, no battleground state), Jeb Bush (doesn't seem interested, doesn't seem to like Romney that much, too much comparisons to the George W. administration, and focuses on other things, now), Donal Trump (birther, inexperienced, can you imagine the jokes?), Jon Huntsman (too many questions about their religion, not a true conservative on social issues, disagrees with Romney on many things).

I hope I covered most of them.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Taxing and Spending

I feel compelled to write a few posts about taxes. Taxes are always being talked about one way or another, so I figure I should do something to try and help make the economic principles behind them clearer. I'll start with a story that I first saw in Steven Landsburg's "The Armchair Economist."

Suppose that you hired a someone to buy a pair of shoes for you once a year. You payed him an upfront fee and than gave him access to a bank account with $1000 that earns interest at a 10% annual rate. The agent goes out and finds a nice pair of shoes for $100. When he goes to buy them, the department store offers to let him buy the shoes on credit at a 10% annual rate. Suppose that the agent decides to buy the shoes with cash, what happens to your account? Well you pay the $100, with $900 remaining. In one year, when your agent will buy another pair of shoes for you, your account will have $990, because of the earned interest.

What if your agent had bought the shoes on credit, then payed it off one year later? Well, the account would have remained at $1000 all year, so at the beginning of the next year there would be $1100 in the account. When your agent goes to pay for the first pair of shoes he will have to pay $110, which leaves $990 left in the account, exactly the same as if he paid cash up front.

But what if the agent decided to buy it on credit, but never pay it off? Well, if your agent is smart, he will realize that he needs to set aside $100 of the $1000, so that he will be able to gain interest at a rate equal to the interest on the shoes. Which leads us to the conclusion that when the time comes for him to buy another pair of shoes, he will have $990 to spend.

What is this story supposed to illustrate? Financing does not matter. No matter how something is paid for, the burden of paying for it is exactly the same. The second lesson is: The only relevant factor in deciding how to finance a purchase is interest rates. If I can earn money at a higher rate than the interest rate on a debt, I should purchase on credit. If I cannot, I should pay cash.

Finally, the last lesson that takes some thought to reach and understand is: Any financial burden is created by Spending alone. If I have a lot of debts that I have to work to pay off, it is not the debts that create the burden, but the spending that I financed with the debts. If I spend more than I can afford, no matter how I do it, I am in trouble. Admittedly, the existence of credit is the reason it is even possible to spend too much, but that doesn't mean credit is to blame for your imprudence.

How does this apply to taxes? If we think of the bank account as the US economy, the purchasing agent as the government, and shoes as roads, schools and firemen, we can directly apply the lessons of the story to tax policy.

First, there is no reason we should think of a federal deficit as something bad. It is simply a way of financing our spending. The deficit isn't good or bad. Second, in deciding if we should be raising taxes to pay for our spending or if we should pay for it on credit, what we should care about is the interest rates. In the case of the economy, we should compare the growth rate of GDP to the interest rate on treasury bonds. Since the government is able to borrow at the lowest rates possible, and that the economy even in this recession is growing at a faster rate than the rate the government borrows at there really is not a lot to worry about with federal deficits.

Lastly, and most importantly, we should realize that ultimately, what's most important is how much we are spending. The amount the federal government spends is the only thing that creates a burden. We can have debates about raising taxes or lowering taxes, but those debates are much less important than the debates about what we should be spending on. As far as the parties go, I think that the Republicans are less wrong than the Democrats when it comes to spending and taxes. The Republicans at least talk like they care about how much we spend. The Democrats seem to only care about the deficit because the Republicans do, and they don't seem to care about total spending at all. But that's just how I see it.

Feel free to leave questions or comments. It helps me know if I made clear enough arguments, plus it helps my ego to know that someone other than Josiah is reading this.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Voter's Guide: Nebraska Senate Race

With the announcement of Ben Nelson to not run for another term as senator for the state of Nebraska, the Democrats in Nebraska wanted former governor and former senator Bob Kerrey to run.  At first, he was hesitant to do so, saying he wouldn't until finally he agreed.  Meanwhile on the Republican side, Jon Bruning who won the job of attorney general, did what most attorney generals do, which is run for a new position.  Bruning launched campaign advertisements about him playing football with himself (I'm sure there was a point in the advertisement but I missed it) and was seen as a lock for the Republican senate ticket.  But, as a lot of entrenched Republicans have seen in the last 5 years or so, fringe candidates fueled by Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and remarkably Sarah Palin, took the spot instead.  Deb Fischer, in the Republican primary defeated Jon Bruning by a considerable margin and is the heavy favorite to win the senate seat in the notoriously conservative Nebraska. 

Deb Fischer vs. Bob Kerrey: The Showdown for the Senate.

Deb Fischer: current state legislator, first elected in 2004 from Valentine, Nebraska.  She has a BS degree (me too, we're like twins zomg!) in education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (not so much like twins).  She was a rancher, a former member of the board of education for both Cherry County School District 5 and Valentine rural high school.  Her largest 5 contributors for her campain by industry are Leadership PACs, retired, livestock, crop production and basic processing, and general contractors.  The largest one by far is leadership PACs. 

Bob Kerrey: currently not in office, former governor of Nebraska (1983-1987), senator of Nebraska (1988-2000), with a brief flirtation with the idea of running for President in 1992.  He has a BS degree in pharmacy from the University of Nebraska.  He served in the U.S. Navy, was a restaurateur, and a president of New School University.  His top 5 contributors are Leadership PACs, retired, securities & investment, lawyers/law firms, and lobbyists.  The largest two are Leadership PACs by quite a bit over retired, which dwarf the other three.

Issues:

We'll go through this in alphabetical order the best I can.  I'll try to leave my personal comments for another post.

1. Abortions:

Deb Fischer wants to prohibit federal funding of abortions and of organizations that advocate or perform abortions.  Fischer thinks abortion should only be legal in the cases of incest, rape, or when the mother's life is in danger.

Bob Kerrey has received a 100% grade from Planned Parenthood in his support of their issues.  Extrapolating that and his vote to support Roe v. Wade, his vote to support health insurance to cover abortions, among other votes, it would be safe to say that he is a supporter of pro-choice policies.  I have not found statements of his that update his stance on this issue.

2.  Budget, Spending, and Tax Issues

Deb Fischer, while a state legislator, stated that she would like the state to slightly increase spending for education (K-12) while slightly decreasing state spending on welfare.  She also stated that we should have a slight decrease in inheritance taxes and greatly decrease property taxes.  Since announcing her candidacy for Senate, she has signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge which promises that a candidate will not raise taxes on individuals or businesses.  She has also stated that she supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.  She has stated that she wants to repeal Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and No Child Left Behind as those are "unnecessary government intrusions" into our lives.  She wants to eliminate ineffective and duplicative programs and agencies.  She cites an example of the government offering 44 job training agencies costing $30 billion and the Federal Highway Administration.  She wants to implement a process for congressional oversight of regulations.  She cites an example of Congress having approval authority over any regulation that has an economic impact.  She also wants to audit the Federal Reserve.  She does not want cuts in our defense budget.  She would like to increase spending so that we can adequately secure our borders, both north and south and our ports.

Bob Kerrey worked as a governor and a senator to have a balanced budget.  He believes that both sides need to work together in order to cut the deficit.  He proposed to reform entitlement spending  and to cut spending during his terms as governor and senator.  His plans call for a reform for social security spending among others.  I'm going to be honest, Kerrey rambles off a long story about how he worked so hard to try to help out the financial mess we were in, in both Nebraska and the United States, that I kind of zoned out halfway through and those are the most important things I could find.

3. Campaign Finance and Governmental Reform

Fischer has been quite adament that she would propose a term limit for those in Congress.  She has pledged to a two term limit for herself in the Senate.  She opposed individual spending for state legislative campaigns and gubernatorial candidates but supported corporations, PACs, and political parties to spend how they see fit on those elections.  Fischer stated that she supports full and timely disclosure of campaign finance information. Put a lifetime ban on Members of Congress from becoming federally registered lobbyists after they leave office.  She wants to prevent immediate family of Members of Congress from becoming federally registered lobbyists while that particular member holds federal office.
Increase the cooling-off period for congressional staff from lobbying Members of Congress for whom they were previously employed to three years and eliminate the salary requirement.
Prohibit former committee staff to lobby committee chairs or any member of the committee who was active during their time on staff for three years.
Restrict federally registered lobbyists from joining congressional staff or committee staff for three years.
Congress should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Nebraska and other states are subject to FOIA and Washington should be held to the same standard.
The current financial disclosure reports by federal candidates and Members of Congress need to provide additional details. Currently, the disclosure reports allow for too wide of a range for asset and liability values to accurately determine a member's net worth.
Change the rules of the U.S. Senate to require debate on the Senate floor on all major pieces of legislation with two thirds of Senators present for at least 5 hours prior to a vote. This debate should be subject to public viewing.
All bills need to be posted for at least 72 hours for public review before being voted on by Members of Congress.
As a U.S. Senator, Deb Fischer will thoroughly review each bill before voting on it.
Oppose all earmarks until the budget is balanced and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark.
Eliminate earmarks that go to private companies.
Make it a top priority to pass the "Cut, Cap and Balance Act" in order to balance the budget and reduce spending.
Vote to eliminate automatic pay increases for members of Congress.
Prohibit Members of Congress and federal employees from trading stocks based on information obtained on the job that is not publicly available.
Prohibit Members of Congress, their staffs and federal employees from disclosing nonpublic information for investment purposes.
Prohibit Members of Congress, their staffs and federal employees from purchasing land based on inside information that is not public available.
Require Members of Congress to be subject to the same laws and privileges as every citizen of the United States

Bob Kerrey does not have public statements clarifying his statements on the issues, certainly not anywhere near how much Fischer has spoken about the issue but Kerrey voted yes on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act which would ban soft money in federal elections, greatly increases transparency in campaign finance, among others.  He also voted yes to disclose members of political organizations known as 527s.  Perhaps most famous for this Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements. 


4. Crime Issues

Fischer is a believer in the death penalty.  She wants to end parole for repeat offenders.  She wants to strengthen penalties and sentences for drug related crimes.  She also believes that accused minors of a violent crime should be prosecuted as adults.  She does not support the legalization of marijuana.

Kerrey voted no on a bill that would charge teenagers involved in a crime with a firearm as being tried as an adult.  He later voted yes on a bill that would try teenagers involved in crimes with a firemarm as an adult.  That bill also increased the number of crimes that could be punished by the death penalty.  It also required a mandatory life sentence for criminals who were convicted of their third violent offense. 

5. Education issues

Fischer would like to endorse voluntary prayer in school.  She thinks there should be state funding for tax incentives and financial aid that makes college more affordable.  She also stated that she thought schools should be funded equally by state funding and local property taxes.

So far, I have not found public statements from Bob Kerrey on this issue.

6. Energy/Environmental Issues

Fischer has stated that she wants to reform or possibly eliminate the EPA.  She would like to see the "burdensome" greenhouse gas emissions restrictions lifted allowing businesses to respond to market forces without being stifled.  She supports domestic and off-shore drilling including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  She would support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska.  She wants to expand nuclear and coal powered technologies, removing burdensome regulations for nuclear power for it to create more of the nation's energy.  She believes that the private sector should should lead the development of alternative energy.  She also believes that we should support our universities, colleges, and research institutions to study energy conservation and alternative energy. 

Bob Kerrey has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, a leading environmental interest group in the United States.

7. Gun Issues

Deb Fischer has an A+ rating from the NRA and is endorsed by them.

Bob Kerrey had a 0% approval rating from the NRA (this must have been before they gave letter grades).

8. Healthcare

Fischer wants to repeal Obamacare. She wants to tackle the problem of health care reform by promotoing competition between insurance companies, reforming our tort system, updating information technology, and embracing preventative care.

Kerrey has stated that Obamacare is doomed to fail because it was passed on strict party lines.  Kerrey believes in his own health care reform which is called Health USA.  The only eligibility requirement is to be an American citizen.  It's a market-based approach that empowers individuals to choose between competing plans based on deductibles and co-pays that we choose together.  He wants to sever the link between employers and health care to help those who have businesses to focus instead on just creating jobs.

9. Immigration reform

Fischer wants to secure the borders by providing necessary funding to secure the Northern and Southern border, and our ports.  She wants to increase the number of border patrol agents.  She wants to implement a mandatory E-verify system for employers and enact stricter penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.  She wants to provide support to state and local governments by allowing for the expedited removal of illegal aliens with a criminal record or suspected of trafficking.  She also wants to increase funding and flexibility for state and local officials to enforce immigration laws.  She opposes amnesty for illegal alients and would deny benefits such as driver's license and in-state tuition to illegal aliens.  She would cut funding to state and local governments that adopt sanctuary city policies.  She also wants to make English the official language of the United States. 

Bob Kerrey had this to say about immigration reform:

1. Citizenship should be offered to any immigrant serving in the Armed Forces
2. Any immigrant seeking advanced college degrees should get work visas to stay in the U.S. after they graduate and their student visas expire.
3. Redoubling efforts to secure borders
4. Crack down on people who overstay their visas which is the most common form of illegal immigration since the Great Recession curbed the number of Mexicans crossing the border into the United States
5. Speed up applications of permanent resident visas, or green cards, to spouses and children of green card holders living abroad. Currently, there is a cap, with a backlog of 2 ½ years to receive a visa.
6. Update the system of temporary worker visas "so that it meets our economic needs." Updating the system has been held up by both parties in Congress amid failed efforts to achieve immigration reform.

10. National Security

Fischer has stated that national security is the federal government's number one priority.  She wants to make sure that nuclear weapons do not get in the hands of terrorists.  She has also stated that she wants to make sure our troops and their families are supported and their needs are met. 

Kerrey tells a long story about how Congress needs to make sure they're doing their job and using whatever power they can to keep America safe from unconventional enemies.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Playing the Political Game

President Obama and his campaign staff have complained about Mitt Romney not releasing his tax return forms.  Romney has stated that he has followed the precedent by John McCain in releasing two of his forms.  There is no exact precedent.  Presidential candidates can release as many tax returns as he/she wants to, whether it's 40+ like Bob Dole or 2 like John McCain or Mitt Romney.  It's interesting to note that when George Romney, Mitt's father, was trying to secure the 1968 Republican presidential nomination, he released 12 tax returns.  President Obama wants Romney to release his tax returns to highlight the differences between Romney and everyday Americans.  Romney has stated that he will not release his tax returns because he is afraid that Obama will distort more of his information.  Both of these candidates are playing a political game.  I would advise both of them to stop and focus on the issues that are really plaguing this country.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My unsolicited advice to Mitt Romney

1. Release your plans, man.

Alright, Mitt, you've sewn up the Republican nomination.  Where are your plans?  You're supposed to be the man with the plan to show why Barack Obama is not the choice for the presidency.  Instead, we've heard of the release of your 59 page plan to fix the economy. I can only imagine the 59 pages are you repeating yourself that taxes should be lowered and that jobs should be created.  The New Yorker reported that Romney's economic advisers are more moderate Republicans than he probably wants to be associated with, in his quest to be the anti-Obama.  Additonally, his moderate economic advisers may not believe in the trickle down economic theory that Romney has been advertising.  So, where are your economic plans?  If you have such great economic plans, you know, you could release them and help get the country back to work or to fix our country economically. 

2. Stop running the anyone but Obama campaign.

This has a lot to do with the first one, as well.  Romney has consistently disagreed with Obama on every issue.  While Romney has disagreed with Obama on nearly every issue, he has not shown how he would differ with the current president.  Romney has stated that he would repeal Obamacare if he was elected to the presidency; however, he has not offered any position on how he would vary from Obamacare or offer how he would reform health care.  Romney has not issued his own positions on multiple issues and has not offered his own positions.  At this point, Obama is taking a writing utensil calling it a blue pen and Romney is taking the same utensil and saying it's a colorless pencil. Analysts on both sides are blaming the other side for bringing up color in the debate.  I'm blaming both sides for this one but Romney needs to show how he would differ from Obama before blindly disagreeing with him.

3. The world is your oyster, buy 100 million of them.

Romney is weak on foreign policy.  This is probably a fair assessment.  What could Romney do to help himself in this situation?  He could bring in advisers to help him with this subject.  He could bring in Jon Huntsman, former United States ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011.  He was also an ambassador to Singapore under George H.W. Bush.  He knows his shit.  Bring in Huntsman and have a talk about potential foreign policy.  Romney could bring in Rob Portman, too, a U.S. Trade Representative.  Portman is already a possibility as a vice-presidential candidate.  Bring in these foreign policy experts and try to strengthen your biggest weakness.

4. Get by with a little help from your friends.

Tell your rich friends to stop contributing money to your campaign and instead of contributing money to your campaign, put that money into creating jobs.  This will make you look like a person who is putting America ahead of your own presidential run. Additionally, you can criticize Obama and his administration for creating an environment where it is damn near impossible to create jobs.  This is what you call a win-win situation. 

5.  Don't act like a rich douche.

Stop vacationing in New Hampshire. I work for a hotel company.  Believe me, I know, only douchebags vacation in New Hampshire.  You're on vacation all the time.  Really?  You're going to criticize the president for taking too many vacations or golfing too much?  What exactly have you done since you stopped being governor of Massachusetts?  It seems like you're always on vacation. Is it so stressful, writing books and running for president?  Sorry, that was dickish. Don't apologize for being rich and successful.  Isn't that what your campaign is about?  Release your tax forms, if that's the point of your presidential run.  If it's not, don't campaign on it.

6. Act like you've been there before.

Romney and his campaign have been trying to make a point that Obama is inexperienced or over his head.  It's unclear how that's going to run after the Supreme Court's ruling of the Affordable Care Act.  But, it doesn't seem like Romney is ready to run for the presidency.  Act presidential.  Put the country ahead of your campaign.  If you have plans that will actually make America a better place and you're not releasing it because you would rather have the presidency then making the country a better place then you are truly playing into the role of the cynical policymaker.  Which brings me to my last piece of advice.

7. Let the press know that you have the plan to get America out of this economic downturn.  You have talked to President Obama and have talked to leaders of both parties.  You have helped broker this amazing breakthrough in the American economic scene.  You have done something that President Obama could not do.  You have engineered a breakthrough in bipartisanship.

Oh well, #7 is a pipe dream. 

That must have been what woke me up.

I doubt any of my advice will be listened to, but that would be my advice to Mitt Romney.

Good night/good morning.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Getting off on the Wrong Foot

Hi everybody. My name is Neal and I'm going to try and help Josiah out and write a few posts here. I know Josiah likes to talk about elections and politics and all that, but I have roughly zero experience and, frankly, zero interest in the minutia of the clusterfuck that is American politics. I do enjoy economics which overlaps with politics quite often, usually in the form of politicians ignoring any of the insights of economics and doing whatever they want. So, I expect that my posts will probably just be an extended series of facepalms and rants, so bear with me. I'll do my best to try and tie things in to politics, but this is the internet, so no promises.

Everyone hates special interests. Of all the things that are messing up this country, special interests are at the top of the list. They're jerks. They think that they are so important that they demand what they want from the government, damn anyone else. They want the rest of us to pay for the things that they like and justify it based on some half baked theory about how it really is good for everyone, not just them.

So, today I'm going to highlight one of the biggest, most insidious special interest groups out there; people with manufacturing jobs. People who work in the manufacturing sector are always trying to tell us how great manufacturing jobs are for America and that the government needs to pass laws that encourage more manufacturing jobs. They want the government to give them loans so they can build new factories and place tariffs of foreign goods so that they can compete with foreign manufacturers. They want consumers to pay higher prices so that they can make more money, classic special interest behavior.

Of course they don't ever come out and say that. They claim, like every special interest, that whats good for them is good for the country, but it clearly isn't. Sure some people are better off, but everyone is worse off. If the government is giving them tax credits or low interest loans or just giving them cash, than all taxpayers are worse off. If there are tariffs then all consumers are worse off by paying more for goods.

Does the damage done to consumers outweigh the benefit to manufacturers? Yes. This simple supply and demand graph shows how. The box marked tariff revenue is how much the government receives from the tariff. The boxes marked x and y are called the deadweight loss. The deadweight loss is how much value is lost because of the tariff. This value doesn't get shifted from consumers to producers or get collected by the government; it's gone. On the whole, we are worse off. It's true that producers are better off, and the government has more money, but those two combined are less than what consumers lose.

http://welkerswikinomics.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/tariff-graph-1.jpeg

So, why do I bring this up? Mainly it's because of the "controversy" about the Olympic uniforms (which I agree should be burned, although on the grounds that we should burn shitty uniforms, but not because they are from China) and about Mitt Romney's company outsourcing jobs. Any time the government tries to protect domestic producers, it does so at the cost of consumers. It's no different than when it helps any other special interest group.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sending out an SOS

I need to find another person to contribute to this blog. My goal was to run it by myself but I would WELCOME anyone else who would like to have their voice heard. I, especially need one who is more to the right of me to try to balance this out a bit. Uh-oh, my bias is showing. If you're interested, send me an e-mail josiahshanks223@gmail.com.

Rampage! Part 1: The economy


I apologize in advance for the language in this post. I'll try to edit it out later when I've calmed down. Yesterday, I put up a quote on Facebook from Brooks Jackson of FactCheck to try to advocate for those doing real research in their claims and to decide who to vote for. A vicar from Minnesota attacked the claims and put his own views on there about why he couldn't vote for Obama. I showed howed how his points were not making much sense and actually disproved almost all of them. He changed the argument stating that we're in a world of degradation and it doesn't matter who we vote for. But I checked Facebook yet again and he put up yet another post praising Romney over Obama.  Nevermind the inherent hypocrisy in saying that we're in a world of degradation and it doesn't matter who we vote for and then putting up posts that clearly show preference for one candidate over another. We won't even focus on the fact that churches cannot lose tax exempt status for showing political bias and favoring one candidate over another; he has carte blanche to advocate for Romney over Obama every week without any real reprecussions.  But if a member of another charitable organization such as a political mobilization group could lose 501c(3) status by saying you should vote for one candidate over another or telling you to say yes or no to certain ballot measures. Instead we're turning this opportunity to start a segment here at A More Perfect Union. This new segment is going to focus on arguments from both sides of the political spectrum for/against both presidential candidates. Buckle up for the ride! Let's do it.

We're assuming a hypothetical debate here. There is not a doubt in anyone's mind that the biggest argument in this year's election cycle will be about the economy.  I hope to encapsulate the thoughts and feelings of Republicans and Democrats in this faux debate. I'm going to go ahead and set up my own format even though, because I'm not 100% sure how the debates should be set up. For the first topic, we're going to start with the Republican answer, the Democrat response, the Republican response/closing argument and end with the Democrat response/closing argument. I'm sorry in advance if you think I do not properly represent the Republican or Democrat side.  I am presenting the first part of the debate today.

Republican answer: President Obama's policies are failing, by any measure you want to look at.  He promised the American people when he passed his stimulus that unemployment would be below 8%.  Instead we have record leves of unemployment, we've had 41 straight months of unemployment above 8%.  This president has put more people on food stamps under his watch than any president in history.  We have 6 million more people living in poverty.  We have record numbers of people filing for disability. Every day there are 1,500 jobs lost because of these policies.  We want four more years of this?  Since January of 2009, when he was first sworn in as President, we have lost 500,000 jobs. We reached 10% unemployment, a number unheard of since the Great Depression. He is failing as a job creator.

The stimulus plan which was passed to help create jobs has not created these jobs.  It has been a failure on two levels.  In addition to not creating jobs, it has burdneed us with unreasonably high deficits.  We are bankrupting our country in order to pay for this failed stimulus.  We need to curb the government spending, it's obviously not working. These policies are not working, we need to go back to what we should be doing, which is cutting taxes for the American people, cutting unnecessary government spending, and leave the job creating to individuals and not the government.

Look at Governor Romney's job creation record.  He know what he is doing.  He had the best jobs record in a decade.  He reduced unemployment in Massachusetts to 4.7%.  He did all of that while balancing the budget without raising taxes.  If you just compare it to Obama, it's unfathomable that you would select Obama over Romney.

Democrat response: What is there to say to that?  We've had 41 straight months of unemployment over 8%.  That's true. But what you're ignoring is the effect of the recession on the economy.  It seems likely, regardless, of who was president that we would still have had near record number of unemployment.  These levels have been seen before, such as during the Great Depression. Obviously when you bring up the Great Depression you're citing an example that seems almost unimaginable in today's terms but those are the levels that which we came close to raching again.  All of the economic indicators are showing that we were in a recession and blaming the current president for issues that are not necessarily his fault is a cop out.  We have had record numbers of people filing disability and food stamps.  For food stamps, there was an upward trend of people filing for fod stamps under George W. Bush.  In 7 of the 8 years of his presidency, there was an increase of people filing for food stamps.  This was in large part due to aggressive actions to get people to file for food stamps, as well as broadening eligibility requirements.  For the number of people living in poverty, you're again ignoring the recession that was happening before President Obama was president.  But if we are to ignore that, there's still a way around that argument.  During the George W. Bush presidency, there was an increase of 8.2 million people living in poverty by the end of this presidency. The upward climb of people living in poverty started in 2007 and has increased since then.  The 2010 poverty rate percentage was 15.1 percent is higher than most years in the last four decades besides 1983 when the poverty rate was 15.3 percent and 1993, when it was 15.3 percent.  We have lost over 500,000 jobs, it's true, but that's mainly because of an increase in job losses in the government sector.  In the last 27 months there has been nearly 4 million jobs created in the public sector.  Overall, there has been 55,000 jobs created in the public sector but there has been a massive decrease in the amount of government jobs.  In 2011, President Obama oversaw a creation of 1.8 million jobs, which beat out the totality of the eight years of George W. Bush's presidency which was 1,095,000 jobs.  In 2010, there was 1,027,000 jobs created, which is only slightly less. The 10% unemployment rate was a one time event that happened.  During Reagan's presidency, there was a 11 month stretch of 10% or higher unemployment.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report in August of 2010 that stated that the stimulus bill lowered the unemployment rate between 0.7-1.8%,further it increased the number of people emplyed by 1.4-3.3 million people.  In 2009, the CBO projected a deficit of $1.2 trillion, the first time the deficit was over a trillion.  The current deficit for this fiscal year is $1.2 trillion.  We can see that spike of spending did not start under Obama.  the CBO said the law “added $579 billion to budget deficits in 2009 and 2010.” During that time, deficit spending totaled $2.7 trillion, so the stimulus accounted for about 21 percent of the two-year deficit total. That report also said that the law would have an impact of only $94 billion over an eight-year period from 2012 to 2019, which includes the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. 

Finally, we look at Romney's jobs record. In Romney's term as governor, Massachusetts added a net 49,100 jobs (an increase of about 1.5 percent). In the four years under Romney’s predecessor, Republican Jane Swift, the state added 19,000 jobs (an increase of 0.59 percent). In the next four years under Romney’s successor, Democrat Deval Patrick, Massachusetts lost a net 66,400 jobs (a decrease of 2.03 percent).  That ignores the national recession, before and after his term.  So how did Massachusetts do compared with other states? As the Obama campaign has repeatedly noted, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states over the entirety of Romney’s four years as governor in terms of job creation. By comparison, Massachusetts ranked 37th in job growth under Swift, and it ranked 10th in Patrick’s first term. We'll note that Massachusetts ranked 50th the year before he took office so it was improving before he left. Romney lowered unemployment to 4.7%, But again, that’s not nearly as impressive when viewed against the nation’s unemployment record at the time. Massachusetts’ unemployment rate was slightly lower than the national unemployment rate of 5.8 percent when Romney took office and was roughly the same as the national rate when he left office.While Romney did not increase income taxes to balance the budget he raised fees hundreds of millions dollars.  In the first year of office, his fees generated $400 million.  He also closed some corporate tax loopholes which increased revenue by $150 million.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Beyond Frustrated

After the Supreme Court's ruling last week to uphold the Affordable Health Care Act, I allowed myself to be excited for a few minutes.  I should clarify that I don't think that the act is perfect but I do think that is a necessary and right step in health care reform.  My excitement, as it turns out, was a mistake.  One that I doubt I will be making again.  After the ruling, pretty much everyone was taking to Facebook to spread misinformation or to celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling.  Those who were doing the misinforming led me to create my last post which was designed to address the issues I saw people posting about.  Additionally, I commented on people's misinformation in attempt to further guide them to being correct about issues. I should note that I fully support those who disagree with me on issues when their grounds for doing so are based in truth or at least backed up with facts.  It's highly unlikely that you are going to agree with me on every single issue that I support or those that I agree with.  Does that mean that I am going to get angry every single time and ignore facts or reason? I certainly hope not.  I try my hardest not to do that.  If it comes down to an argument and what we're disagreeing over is fundamental ideological differences, then we can leave it at that.  But in your arguments, if it is full of false propositions and we're disagreeing, I'm going to try to correct it.  At this point, I am beyond frustrated with people.  I have tried ignoring people when they post things that are obviously incorrect and I can't do it.  It makes me seem like an arrogant jackass. I try to leave my own comments out of it and merely link them to the sources.  When doing so, I use PolitiFact and FactCheck or link them to actual government documents that they're spreading the misinformation to.  What's standing in the way is confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for or interpret information that confirms one's preconceptions.  We, as humans, all have this tendency.  It's important to recognize when you're falling victim to it, in order to avoid errors.  Part of the reason, I write on this blog is to get feedback on things that I think I might be misinterpreting.  Confirmation bias gets in the way of a lot of arguments with people.  If you think Barack Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia and not Hawai'i, it doesn't matter what proof I show you otherwise, you are going to interpret the information in a way that proves you right.  If I think that Obama and his campaign are going a bit overboard on their outsourcing claims of Mitt Romney, I am going to interpret information a bit differently then someone who believes otherwise.  Battling confirmation bias is hard to do and the only way to really do it is just provide your knowledge (a word I'm using in the strictest philosophical definition of a justified true belief) and hope that the knowledge is given to another person.  I believe that the truth will eventually conquer the biases of processing (there are others besides confirmation bias) but it's frustrating as hell combatting them.  I'll leave you with a quote from FactCheck's editor Brooks Jackson in an article entitled "Why the Truth Still Matters."

"Consider: If unpleasant truths would get candidates elected, they would state them frankly. But they seldom do that, because so few of us in the public want to hear unpleasant truths. Stating such things is considered a gaffe. Political campaigns are not public-policy seminars. The candidate’s goal is not to inform, but to persuade and motivate. Candidates make false claims, and grossly exaggerate, because they believe that fires up their supporters and triggers the biases of potential supporters.  This has been going on for a long time. Lying to the public was common in the ancient Greek democracy 2,500 years ago...And yet, facts and truth still matter. It’s a fact that federal spending remains at its highest level relative to gross domestic product than at any time since 1946, however much Democrats resist and demonize attempts to restrain the growth of entitlements. It’s also a fact that federal revenues are at their lowest level since 1950, however much Republicans deny that tax cuts have contributed to the unsustainable deficits and growing debt they decry.  Sensible voters can still decide elections – but they shouldn’t expect the unbiased truth from 30-second TV spots, or partisan talking points repeated endlessly on cable networks. But to be sensible, a voter must first ask, 'Does that claim sound too good – or too much like what I want to hear — to be true?' That’s where the search for the sometimes unwelcome truth begins."

Monday, July 2, 2012

The More Perfect Union Primer on the Affordable Care Act

If you're like me, then you've spent the last few days on Facebook looking at your friends' posts about "Obamacare" while biting your tongue instead of responding to their clearly baiting posts.  Well, here's to combat some of the falsehoods running around out there.

1. The majority of Americans want to repeal Obamacare.

This may or not be true.  I was watcing CNN today and they announced that 50% of Americans agree with the Supreme Court's decision while 49% disagree.  There was a +/- 2.5% sampling error.  But in most cases the polls are not putting sufficient qualifiers in place to exclude those who think that the Affordable Care Act should have gone further or those who support other ways of reforming health care (such as those who support a single payer system).  Without sufficient qualifiers, one is merely using the numbers to say exactly what they want instead of reporting what the polls actually say.

2. It's a budget busting bill.

This claim has been made by Michele Bachmann among other Republicans.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would lower the deficit by about $120 billion over the next ten years.  It's somewhat interesting to note that the Repeal the Job Killing Healthcare Act will increase the federal deficit by $210 billion from 2012-2021.  In the report by the CBO.  Over the eight years covered by both of the studies (2012-2019), the CBO estimated that the Affordable Care Act would reduce federal deficits by $132 billion while the repeal of the act would increase the deficit by $119 billion.  It's important to note that the CBO is not infallible and that their projections are primarily baed on a 7% increase in Medicaid spending over the ten years as opposed to a 10% increase.  Republicans argue that the CBO's estimates are either too optimistic or just plain wrong.

Update: The CBO actually revised their figures in March and found that the act would reduce the federal deficit by $210 billion over the years 2012-2021.

3. This will increase taxes by $500 billion. 

Technically, the tax revenue over the next 10 years is $437.8 billion.  Republicans have tended to include fees or penalties for those who don't obtain health insurance and business that will not provide health insurance to bump it up to $500 billion.

4. My taxes will increase due to this bill.

If you're friends with me on Facebook , you will know that I asked for sources from everyone who made this claim.  As of this writing, I have not received any of these sources.  According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, here are the tax increases.  FactCheck and PolitiFact also summed up the tax increases.  Here's PolitFact's summation of the tax increases:

• Starting in 2013, Medicare payroll taxes increase 0.9 percentage points for people with incomes over $200,000 ($250,000 for couples filing jointly). Also, people at this income level would pay a new 3.8 percent tax on investment income. The 10-year cost: $210.2 billion.

• Starting in 2018, a new 40 percent excise tax on high-cost health plans, so-called "Cadillac plans" (over $10,200 for individuals, $27,500 for families), kicks in. That's expected to bring the government a total of $32 billion in 2018 and 2019.

• Starting in 2011, there's a new fee for pharmaceutical manufacturers and importers. That's expected to raise $27 billion over 10 years.

• Starting in 2013, a 2.3 percent excise tax on manufacturers and importers of certain medical devices starts. The 10-year total: $20 billion.

• Starting in 2014, a new annual fee on health insurance providers begins. Total estimated 10-year revenue: $60.1 billion.

• Starting in 2013, the floor on medical expense deductions on itemized income tax returns will be raised from 7.5 percent to 10 percent of income. That's expected to bring in $15.2 billion over the next 10 years.

• Starting in 2011, a 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning services. That's expected to bring in $2.7 billion over the next 10 years.   

FactCheck found that a large majority of Americans will NOT see a direct tax increase from the health care law.

Additionally, if you are to blame Obama for the tax increases for the healthcare bill then you also have to give him credit for lowering payroll taxes by2% and Social Security taxes by 2%. 

5. This will be the biggest tax increase in the history of the world.

PolitiFact compares tax increases over time by looking at the tax increases as a percentage of GDP. Here is what they found. The tax increases by 2019 would be 0.49% of GDP which is certainly a tax increase but it is no bigger than the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility of 1982 which was 0.8% of GDP.  It was found to be about the 5th biggest tax increase by this measure since 1968.   It doesn't even come close to the top 5 in the history of the United States, much less, the world.

6. Companies are just going to opt out and pay the fine or they're going to outsource jobs so that they don't have to pay for health insureance.  Overall, it is a job-killing bill.

This one is kind of complicated.  The CBO reports that 650,000 people will choose to work less or retire early, primarily because of the new law.  There would be 150,000 to 300,000 jobs lost, all minimum wage or near minimu wage positions.  The National Federation of Independent Businesses stated that 1.6 million jobs would be lost but the study is not based on what actually became law and mainly focused on small business with less than 50 employees.  Businesses with 50 or less employees would not have to offer health insurance with the new law.

What about the mandate?

It's considered a tax, as Chief Justice Roberts stated because the "penalty was not intended to be a criminal fine, because those who choose to pay it, rather than honor the mandate to obtain health insurance, would be in full compliance with the law."  The IRS will collect the penalty, which is another reason it is considered a tax. 

The minimum penalty will be $95 per person in 2014, the first year that it is required for individuals to et health care coverage.  It will rise to $325 the following year.  It will be $695 when it is finally fully phased in. 

But the penalty can never exceed the cost of the national average premiums for the lowest-cost “bronze” plans being offered through the new insurance exchanges called for under the law. We have no way of knowing what that average rate might turn out to be in 2014, but there is reason to think it could be quite high.  Please read FactCheck's answers to FAQ's about the mandate.

A tax is assessed for each month that a person is not covered.  It is pro-rated so that if someone does not have coverage for a month, it will be 1/12 of the penalty.

The law prohibits the IRS from seeking to put anybody in jail or seizing their property for simple refusal to pay the tax. 

FactCheck answers who's exempt.  This is who they found.

Individuals who can't afford coverage: If an employer offers an employee coverage that is more than 8% of an individual's income then they are exempt.

Taxpayers with income below filing threshold: If you earn too little to file for tax returns, you are exempt.  That is $9,500 for individuals and $19,000 for couples, right now.

Hardships: The Secretary of Health and Human Services can exempt others if he r she determines they suffered hardships with respect to their capability to obtain coverage.

Other exemptions: Also exempt are members of Indian tribes, persons with only brief gaps in coverage, and members of certain religious groups currently exempt from Social Security taxes.