Friday, August 31, 2012

Another Example of Liberal Bias...

"We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
- A Mitt Romney pollster at the RNC

Recently, a study by GOP strategists have indicated that PolitiFact Virginia, has a liberal bias! The article that I saw, which ran on showed that PolitiFact Virginia was more likely to give a False or Pants on Fire rating to Republicans rather than Democrats.  They are more likely to rule disproportionally against Republicans and in favor of Democrats.  They also charge that when they rule in favor of Republicans, it is more likely to run on Fridays when there are less people reading for news.  Here's the link.

So, how did PolitiFact respond?  Pretty much like you would expect.  I'm quoting at length here:

"The GOP takes issue with the fact that 26 of our last 37 rulings have concerned Republican candidates and elected officials. But Virginia is largely controlled by Republican politicians. The governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general belong to the party, as do eight of the 13 members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Both houses of the General Assembly are run by Republicans.

In addition, the GOP fielded four candidates in its primary for the U.S. Senate this spring and sponsored three debates among the candidates. The Democrats, in contrast, handed their nomination to unopposed Kaine.

So it’s no surprise that during the first half of the year, we spent most of our time rating Republican statements. We follow the action.

We do not try match every Truth-O-Meter item on a Republican with one on a Democrat. We are not obliged to assign a False rating to a Democrat just because we gave one to a Republican. PolitiFact Virginia is not about mathematical balance between parties in our ratings. We’re about making calls on political statements that are in the news.

We makes no claims of being infallible. When we mistakes, we correct them. In recent months, we held separate meetings with officials from the Allen and Kaine campaigns to discuss their concerns about us. We believe in open dialogue because it helps us get the story right."

In addition to their response, I have a few thoughts of my own.  I'll number them because I want to. 

1. PolitiFact Virginia is focusing on the stories that happen.  If most of the elected officials in the state are one party, of course they are going to be selected more often.

2. Bob McDonnell is a very outspoken individual.  He also happens to be the Republican Governor of Virginia.  He is a surrogate for the Republican party and he has presidential hopes for 2016.  He is going to make public appearances.  He is going to be listened to by people. 

3. McDonnell repeats much of the same claims the Romney campaign has issued because of his standing as governor.

4. PolitiFact National's 2011 Lie of the Year was that Republicans were going to end Medicare.  They were roundly bashed by liberal talking heads and politicians alike. 

5. PolitiFact is routinely criticized by both parties, by politicians of both sides, by talking heads of both sides, etc. that they are being biased towards the other side.

6. In PolitiFact Virginia's response, they state that they have been criticized by the Democrat who is running for Senate for being biased towards the Republican.

7. In every PolitiFact ruling, they provide links to the sources that they are using, which usually include non-partisan websites or actual governmental studies.  If you are disagreeing with the ruling of PolitiFact, you are welcome to use the various sources provided to come to your own conclusion.  Even in cases where they issue a Pants on Fire ruling, they attempt to find the sources that the politician used to get to that statistic, factoid, fact, figure, etc.  As a reader, you are welcome to click on that source, as well.

8. PolitiFact Virginia was founded in 2010, they have found that 60% of their statements are Republican and 40% are Democrat.  From their response: "After gathering a full list of our fact-check items, we assigned 5 for a True, 4 for a Mostly True, 3 for a Half True, 2 for a Mostly False, 1 for a False, and zero for a Pants on Fire. The average rating for each Democratic claim we have reviewed is 2.9, the average rating for Republicans was 2.8."

9. On the same day the study was announced, Allen (Republican running for Senate) used PolitiFact data to show that Kaine (the Democrat running for Senate) cut support to state colleges when Kaine was governor.  They released this report on their website.  If you are critical of something that produces statistics and figures, you cannot use it when it benefits you and call it unreliable the next instance.

10. The issue of this whole study isn't just confirmation bias.  Well, the study itself probably is.  But the issue is that one party can look at facts and say these facts do not matter because they are produced in a biased way.  People will listen.  People are naturally suspicious of manipulations of statistics, figures, and facts.  When you claim that these figures, facts, or statistics are manufactured to produce a certain result, people are going to find solace in the old adage, that there are three types of lies, lies, damned lies, and statistics.  This goes both ways.  Democrats can't say look at independent fact-checkers about Republican claims but not Democratic claims.  Republicans shouldn't say the same thing.  We have an increasing us vs. them dichotomy in this country and it's getting worse with claims of bias that do not exist.

There are biases in media outlets.  For PolitiFact, there needs to be more proof than what was offered.

You didn't build that...Context included

A full transcript of what Barack Obama said on his campaign stop in Roanoke.

PolitiFact's excerpt from their In Context series:

"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

"So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the G.I. Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President -- because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together."

Tagging along

I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and comment on the "you didn't build that" comment. I usually give people the benefit of the doubt and look at statements like these in the best possible light. I think that the president did mean that private businesses didn't build the infrastructure that they use, and of course he's right. Even in the broader sense that every successful person needed the work of other people to become successful is correct. But that doesn't mean that successful people have no right to their wealth, or should not complain when the government takes more money from them.

The fundamental insight of economics is that no transaction will take place unless everyone involved thinks that they will be better off afterwards. So, successful people, whether they are buying or selling goods and services, are making someone better off with each transaction. You can't build a mansion with out lumberjacks, but you can't be a lumberjack if no one wants lumber. Any claim that a lumberjack may have on a millionaires mansion, that millionaire has just as much claim on the lumberjacks ax and flannel.

The biggest problem I have with the president's statement is the misunderstanding of what is necessary and what is sufficient. Yes, roads are necessary for businesses, but not sufficient. What is sufficient to build a business? You need all the goods and services produced by others, for sure, but the thing that makes a business a reality is the choices, drive, determination, and all that good stuff of the people who "build" the business. All those goods and services will be there whether the business is "built" or not, but the business will only be built if the someone chooses to. That choice is what is most important and is what gives businessmen the right to their profits, not anyone else.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Unemployed and blogging from California: Why saying we did build that is a stupid stupid thing to say, maybe part 1

Alright, so I haven't been active posting here lately.  I moved to California last Thursday and have been working tirelessly to find a job.  I had my first job offer today, so as a reward, I'm allowing myself to blog, again.  Aren't you lucky?

It's been over a month since Barack Obama uttered the phrase, "you didn't build that."  I've been relatively quiet on the issue, not that anyone cares, really.  The theme of the Republican convention was, "we did build that."  Some people have already noted the irony of that being the theme in a convention center that was funded by public money, but we move on.  So, why do I believe that saying we did build that is a stupid, stupid thing to say?  Well, for starters, there's context:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires."

Obama's campaign has argued that their intent was regarding infrastructure, roads, and education.  Jon Stewart argued the same thing on his show "The Daily Show."  That's certainly possible.  In fact, Romney sort of agrees with that sentiment, saying,"...That somebody else is government, in his view. He goes on to describe the people who deserve the credit for building this business. And, of course, he describes people who we care very deeply about, who make a difference in our lives: our school teachers, firefighters, people who build roads. We need those things. We value school teachers, firefighters, people who build roads. You really couldn’t have a business if you didn’t have those things. But, you know, we pay for those things..."  Read that again: You really couldn't have a business if you didn't have those things.  But Romney ends with "...we pay for them and we benefit from them and we appreciate the work that they do and the sacrifices that are done by people who work in government. But they did not build this business." 

But let's forget about context for a second.  Let's forget about the idea that we do our jobs better when we work together rather than we work on it by ourselves.  Let's move on.

So, Republicans are claiming that we did build that.  Yes, they probably did build that.  But they did have help from others, including the government.  For example, Phil Archuletta who spoke at the Republican National Convention (RNC) got a $850,000 loan gurantee from the Department of Commerce and used government contracts to help expand his business.  He complained openly about how he was unable to secure government contracts with President Obama.  Or we could look at the example of one of Romney's advertisements.  In that advertisement, a son claims that he did build that but his father built it.  Additonally, as Jon Stewart pointed out in "The Daily Show" that he also received tax breaks and tax credits. So, businesses that received tax credits, tax breaks, loan guarantees, etc. from the government are building it on their own or in fact building it.

If Romney/Ryan are elected they have claimed that they will repeal the Obama regulations, taxes, etc. to make it easier for businesses to grow and thrive.  If these businesses are going to get additional help from the government, is the success of these businesses more or less dependent on government?  But, let's imagine that they get elected, these regulations are gone, taxes are decreased, etc. and businesses grow because of these new policies.  It is still alright to say that these businesses built them on their own or would the Romney/Ryan ticket say it was because of their policies that businesses are growing.  Does that disspell the idea that people build it on their own?

In conclusion, those people who say they built it are technically correct when they say it.  But they are taking Obama's comment out of context. Romney has agreed with the general notion of what Obama said.  These businesses got help from other people, so they didn't build it on their own.  Finally, by saying policies affect businesses in both positive and negative ways, it detracts from the idea that businessowners are building it on their own.  If policies can both affect in positive and negative ways, then these businessowners are getting help in building their businesses. 

I could go on about other various reasons why I believe that the mantra of we did build that is stupid but this is a good place to end.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Other Side

If there's one thing we can all agree on this election season, it's that the other side must not win.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Thought

Politics is not an exercise in truth seeking. How can it be, when changing your mind is a liability?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The NRA: Levels of Impact on Elections

All quotations and statistics are from the article “Targeting Success” by Kelly D. Patterson and Mathew M. Singer found in Interest Group Politics Seventh Edition edited by Allan J. Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis.

This will be broken up in a series of posts, hopefully, all of it will be up by the end of tonight.

The NRA’s Impact on Government and Elections: The Bare Essentials

It seems odd after calling the NRA the most powerful lobbying group in America that we have not spent all of our time on focusing on their lobbying issues and their overall impact on the actions of government.  We’ve already covered their impact on helping craft legislation in the 1930s and their switch to a more political organization after 1968. 

So, where to start…let’s start with this.  Starting in 1994, the NRA began to use its monthly magazines, American Rifleman and American Hunter to campaign more actively against certain legislation. 

After the tragedy of Columbine, there was increased public pressure on government officials for additional restrictions on gun sales.  A week after the Columbine shootings, polls showed that a 9 percent increase in the number of Americans who considered tougher gun laws the best way to prevent violence.  Surprisingly, there were gun bills on the floor of the Colorado legislature that would have reduced restrictions on concealed weapons.  Those bills were postponed.  Nearly a dozen states followed suit.  The U.S. Senate passed a gun control bill that, ”restricted gun sales at gun shows and pawnshops.”  Al Gore, following his Constitutional duty as Vice President, cast the deciding vote.  Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said, “what you just saw was the [National Rifle Association] losing its grip on the U.S. Senate.”  President Clinton proposed a waiting period for all gun purchases and making parents responsible for some gun crimes committed by their children.  He hosted a meeting on youth violence with most major gun makers but the NRA did not attend.  Gun manufacturers agreed to support increased restrictions on gun ownership, breaking away from the NRA.

The House of Representatives passed a gun control measure that was not as strict as the Senate.  The NRA spent over $3 million in lobbying in trying to prevent the House from passing the same bill that the Senate passed.  Clinton tried to pressure the members of the House to act but ultimately his words were not as powerful as the money thrown in.  A compromise bill between the House’s version and the Senate’s version “was never presented by the conference committee to the full Congress.”

So, what is it that makes the NRA so powerful and how do they influence lawmakers?  Well, NRA support only goes to the candidates that support the NRA’s objective which is “staunch defense of the Second Amendment.”  Even candidates who have been supported in the past by the NRA are not guaranteed to garner their support if there is a candidate who provides a better defense of the 2nd Amendment. 

Patterson and Singer detail the five levels that the NRA gets involved in campaigns and elections.  “First, it grades candidates and publishes those grades in American Rifleman.”  Candidates can receive grades anywhere from A to F.  An A grade would be given to  a candidate who “most actively help the NRA to achieve its goals.”  An F grade would be given to a candidate who “actively oppose[s] the NRA.”  Typically, C candidates would be candidates who vote for the NRA on issues but do not actively lead.  The NRA tends to focus “many of its efforts in those races where an A candidate face[s] an F or even a C.”  In the NRA’s eyes, it’s not enough to vote on issues that defend 2nd Amendment Rights but you have to be sponsoring or co-sponsoring bills that defend it. 

“Endorsement of a candidate is the second level of involvement.”  You have to be a faithful ally of the NRA in order to receive its endorsement.  The national organization may endorse a candidate even if the local organization opposes it.  The candidates that are endorsed are printed on the cover of the November issue of American Rifleman “along with contact information for the local grassroots coordinator.”  The NRA also sends out a letter to the endorsed candidates outlining the reasons why they’re endorsed.  The candidates are allowed to hand out this letter to constituents.

The next level is that the NRA contributes money to the candidate.  “It contributes to loyal incumbents who have long fought the organization’s battles, and it targets its contributions to those close races in which a contribution can make a difference.”  The authors note that the NRA rarely gives the full legal amount and only gives to candidates that ask.

The fourth level, “the NRA uses in-kind contributions.”  These include but are not limited to fundraising and meet-and-greet events, to help the candidate.  Typically, the national office tries to include local members in these events so that the candidate is aware of members who can help them out.

The fifth level is that the “NRA uses independent expenditures to help its candidates.”  These expenditures might be running advertisements or banking telephone calls and everything in between.  The American Rifleman urges people to help volunteer for candidates, however they can.

Jim Wilkinson, former spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that one reason that they like working with the NRA is that it “does a great job of educating their members, especially in the battleground congressional districts.”

The NRA: Some Controversy

All quotations and statistics are from the article “Targeting Success” by Kelly D. Patterson and Mathew M. Singer found in Interest Group Politics Seventh Edition edited by Allan J. Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis.

This will be broken up in a series of posts, hopefully, all of it will be up by the end of tonight.
The NRA and controversy: 

The NRA is not immune to controversy from its members, statements, and timing.  The most well-known controversies happened after the Oklahoma City bombing and Columbine. 

The Oklahoma City bombing happened a week after the release of the NRA’s fundraising letter which described federal agents as “jack-booted government thugs” and as “Nazi storm troopers.”  Membership declined because “mainstream gun owners grew concerned that the organization had become too antigovernment and ideologically extreme.”  It took several years and a shake-up with the organization’s leadership for the organization to project a positive image.  George Bush declined to renew his membership after that newsletter.

On April 20, 1999, the worst school shooting in United States history happened at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.  As many people, especially anyone who has seen the movie Bowling for Columbine, know that the NRA annual convention was scheduled for the first week in May in Denver, Colorado.  The mayor, Wellington Webb, of Denver had asked for the NRA to cancel the convention out of respect for the victims of the tragedy.  The NRA scaled its convention back to one day and canceled a gun show, but the convention still happened.  Eight thousand protesters marched in protest of the convention; only 2,500 NRA members attended the meeting.

Charlton Heston, president of the NRA at that time, stated, “We will not be silent or be told, ‘Do not come here, you are not welcome in your own land…’ What saddens me most is how that [about Webb’s request ] is how that suggest complicity.  It implies that 80 million honest gun owners are somehow to blame, that we don’t care as much as they, or that we don’t deserve to be as shocked and horrified as every other soul in America mourning for the people of Littleton…We cannot, we must not let tragedy lay waste to the most rare, hard-won right in history.”  One might quibble with his statements of how many gun owners there are or even that our 2nd Amendment rights are the most rare or most hard-won right in history.  At any rate, Heston’s comments and the NRA’s decision to not cancel the convention struck many as insensitive.

Editor’s note: It originally said to not cancel the reservation.  Someone is having trouble separating writing this and doing his job.

bearing burdens

Last time, I wrote that the government has four ways to distribute the burden of its spending on the nation. While most people have a basic understanding of these methods I am going to try and highlite some important aspects of each.

1) collecting taxes- Taxes are pretty straight forward. The government tells you what to pay, and you pay. A pet peave of mine is when people use the phrase "asked to pay their fair share." There has never, ever, been a citizen of this nation who has been asked to pay taxes. Everyone is told to pay their taxes, under threat of fines and imprisonment. No one "contributes" to the government. A contribution is voluntary

One of the most important things to understand about taxes is that in certain cases, the name on the check going to the government is not the name of the person who is bearing the burden. The classic example is the payroll tax. The law says that the employer pays half the tax, the employee pays the other half. The burden, however, is borne solely by the employee. The employer simply takes his portion out of the wages of the employee.

In the same vein, only people can bear the burden. One way or another, the burden is shifted from one person to another, until ultimately it is born by an individual. Corporations pay taxes, but they do not bear the burden of government spending. Stock holders, workers, and customers ultimately bear that burden.

2) selling treasury bonds- This is how almost all of our national debt takes form. The government sells a promise that in the future the government will give you more money.

Many people believe that the government should not be selling so many treasury bonds. They believe that amassing such a large amount of debt will burden our children. That view is mistaken. Present spending creates a present burden. In other words, the burdens of the government's present day spending is borne entirely by present day people. The people buying treasuries bear the burden of that debt. It is exactly  the same as if the government had taxed them. The only difference is that in exchange for bearing the burden now, the government promises that they won't have to bear a slightly larger burden in the future. This is the important point. If you believe that the government is not taxing enough, you can raise your present taxes and lower your future taxes by buying treasury bonds.

3) printing more dollars- Inflation is a tax on holding dollars. Each dollar the government prints reduces the value of existing dollars. This loss of value takes the form of rising prices, including rising wages. There is a lot of work done on exactly how inflation enters an economy, but the most simple explanation is that the government prints a dollar, and in a perfect world prices would rise, but since no one knows that the government printed that dollar prices stay the same. The government spends that dollar, at a lower price than it should be. That dollar eventually works its way through the economy, and people realize that there are more dollars than there used to be, and adjust prices accordingly. Now the rest of us have to deal with higher prices, while the government gets whatever it bought at a lower price.

4) taking by force- This, thankfully, is the least used way that the government distributes burdens. Every now and then the government forgoes the whole formality of purchasing goods and services and simply takes them. The burden of this is clearly on the owner. We see this when the government uses eminent domain and in jury duty. Thankfully we no longer have a draft, which is the biggest example of the government taking service by force.

The NRA: Public Opinion of Gun Control and the NRA

All quotations and statistics are from the article “Targeting Success” by Kelly D. Patterson and Mathew M. Singer found in Interest Group Politics Seventh Edition edited by Allan J. Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis.

This will be broken up in a series of posts, hopefully, all of it will be up by the end of tonight.

Public Opinion of the NRA and gun control:

The National Opinion Research Center/General Social Survey (NORC/GSS) states that since 1972 more than 70 percent of citizens have said that they would favor a law that would require person to obtain a police permit before the purchase of a gun.  Sine 2000, they have found that support for this measure has been at over 80 percent.  “Similar, if not higher, levels of support have been expressed for waiting periods before the purchase of a gun and for laws that would register all guns that are purchased."  Since 1990, Gallup has asked if people believe laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, made less strict, or kept as they are.  In the early 1990s, over 70 percent of Americans thought gun laws should be more strict.  By 2004, that percentage had declined to 54 percent. 

In a poll of Utah voters in 1998, 44 percent of NRA members said that there should be no restrictions on gun ownership; 11 percent of non-NRA members shared that opinion.  12 percent of NRA members believed that gun control laws reduce violent crime; 42 percent of non-NRA members believed that gun control laws reduce violent crime. 

How does the public feel about the NRA?  In 1989, 58 percent of people polled said that they had a very favorable or mostly favorable opinion of the NRA.  By 2000, only 51 percent evaluated the NRA favorably.  By the spring of 2006, that number had increased to 60 percent. 71 percent of gun owners evaluate the NRA favorably, but only 36 percent of those who do not own guns have favorable evaluations of the NRA.

The NRA: A Brief History

All quotations and statistics are from the article “Targeting Success” by Kelly D. Patterson and Mathew M. Singer found in Interest Group Politics Seventh Edition edited by Allan J. Cigler and Burdett A. Loomis.

This will be broken up in a series of posts, hopefully, all of it will be up by the end of tonight.

A Brief History:

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has frequently been called the most powerful lobbying group in America.  Both Democrats and Republicans have stated that they would go against the group more often, if it wasn’t so powerful.  The NRA has had a surprising impact on how individuals interpret their 2nd Amendment Rights and how we, as a nation, have discussions about gun control. 

The NRA arose after the Civil War, when Union officers tried to combat the problem of poor marksmanship and rifle skills the Union army showed during the war.  The original charter of the NRA stated: “The object for which [this organization] is formed is the improvement of its members in marksmanship, and to promote the introduction of the system of accuracy drill and rifle practice as part of the military drill of the National Guard of this and other states for those purposes to provide a suitable range or ranges in the vicinity of the City of New York.”  The organization grew slowly until Congress passed the Militia Act of 1903.  The act “authorized creation of a national board for the promotion of rifle practice.”  One of the first things that the board did was to sell surplus weapons and ammunitions to rifle clubs throughout the United States.  This allowed there to be potential members who could help the organization grow.

Over time, the NRA “built on the mandate in the original charter to adjust to the changing political climate.”  The NRA “gradually began to play an active role in efforts by the federal government to regulate firearms.” We can see this by looking at the three main gun control acts passed by Congress in the 1930s and the NRA’s role in the legislation.  The first of these was The Uniform Firearms Act of 1930.  This act “forbade the delivery of pistols to ‘convicts, drug addicts, habitual drunkards, incompetents, and minors under the age of 18.’”  Guess who was a special consultant in passing this act?  The president of the NRA, Karl T. Frederick.  “The NRA also supported the National Firearms Act of 1934, which taxed and required registration of such firearms as machine guns, sawed-off rifles, and sawed-off shotguns.”  The NRA also supported the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, “which imposed regulations on interstate and foreign commerce in firearms and pistol ammunition and restricted the use of sawed-off shotguns and machine guns.”  As Patterson and Singer note, “the NRA worked as an insider and supported some restrictions on gun ownership.” 

In 1968, the organization began to change.  After the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968.  The Gun Control Act “prohibited unlicensed persons from buying, selling, or otherwise transferring rifles, shotguns, handguns, or ammunition outside of their home state or in any form of interstate commerce.”  The NRA viewed this act as infringing on their 2nd Amendment Rights and opposed the act.  But the NRA was still a group of hunters and gun owners primarily interested in sport and not prepared for the world of politics. The first vice president of the NRA, Neal Know, stated that “leadership lacked a taste for [politics]. They considered lobbying beneath them.”  The NRA had fewer than a million members at the time of the act and was unable to stop the passage of the act.  The NRA realized that they needed to “provide ideological, or what are often called purposive, incentives to its members.”  The ideological incentives would be defined primarily around the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. 

After the passage of the Gun Control Act and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the NRA began to change from a mainly sporting organization into a politically motivated giant.  Leaders of the NRA “first looked at the failures of the organization’s past and hoped to make up for lost ground in their efforts to reverse components of the congressional acts of the late 1960s.”  Many of the bills presented to Congress in the 1970s sought to repeal different aspects of the Gun Control Act of 1968.  In July of 1977, the NRA changed its charter to reflect their new stances. The new amendment stated that one of the purposes of the NRA is “generally to encourage the lawful ownership and use of small arms by citizens of good repute; and to educate, promote, and further the right of the individual of good repute to keep and bear arms as a common law and constitutional right both of the individual citizen and of the collective milita.”  This made it official that the NRA was to pursue its own goal of protecting 2nd Amendment Rights. 

From 1977 to 1984 the membership of the NRA steadily increased from a little over 1 million to nearly 3 million members.  During this time, around 200 bills were presented to Congress that dealt with the issue of gun control.  During the period of 1984-1991, growth stayed around the same at about 2.7 million members, reaching a low of 2.5 million in 1991.  During that time, approximately 100 bills were presented to Congress about gun control.  Beginning in 1990, with the Brady Bill, the number of gun control bills before Congress increased.  “With the increase in gun control bills and the election of a pro-gun control president in 1992, the membership of the NRA soared.”  It rose from its low of 2.5 million to 3.5 million in 1994. 

The NRA also began to use its monthly magazines, American Rifleman and American Hunter, to campaign more actively against certain legislation.  These actions attracted new members and encouraged members to renew their membership in the NRA.  The NRA campaigned for Republican candidates for Congress, with success; however, this success caused a drop in membership from 3.4 million in 1994 to 2.8 million in 1995. 

At the end of the 1990s membership began to rise again.  In the 1997-1998 Congress, 128 bills were introduced that would have regulated the sale or use of firearms.  From 1999-2000, 158 bills were introduced.  The greatest perceived threat during this time was the potential for licensing of handguns.  An NRA opponent stated that for gun owners, “licensing equals registration; registration equals confiscation.”  With the election of George W. Bush to the White House in 2000, with a seemingly sympathetic Congress, membership leveled off.  Chuck Cunningham, federal affairs director of the NRA stated that the “drop in membership following the 2000 election was due to the belief among individuals that they did not need to be members because the legislative and presidential threats to Second Amendment rights would not be very great during the George W. Bush administration.”

If we fast forward to present day, we have the NRA stating half-truths, lies, and misinformation on their website.  Their idea is that Obama is the most anti-gun president in history.  They have been insisting that he wants to take all of the guns of Americans away despite the grades that they actually have given Obama and what the Brady organization has said.  Whether it’s lies about the United Nations mandate that we will not be able to buy guns or secret conversations about how Obama is out to take people’s guns, the NRA has fearmongered its way back to increased membership.  When the NRA feels threatened more people are likely to join the NRA.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Information about Paul Ryan: AllYou Might Need to Know

If you are interested in the presidential election of 2012, you have probably heard the news that Paul Ryan has been named as the vice-presidential candidate for Mitt Romney.  If you read this blog, then you probably know that Paul Ryan was a slight surprise for the nomination, at least to me.  I’ll discuss at length why this was a surprise and also what it means to the Romney campaign.
1.       How does Ryan play into the general strategy of the Romney campaign?
In order to win this presidential election, Mitt Romney needs to be able to win most of the critical swing states.  These include Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Iowa.  These swing states become increasingly less important if Romney is able to turn states that are either leaning Obama or solidly Obama to come over to the Romney side.  Ultimately the goal of the Romney campaign (and the Obama campaign, for that matter) is to get to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the Presidential election.  I have hinted that if Romney chose someone such as Paul Ryan, Tim Pawlenty, or even Rob Portman, we might expect Romney to launch a Northern strategy in order to get the necessary votes.  This Northern strategy is focusing on the swing states in the North such as Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio but also throwing Minnesota and Michigan into the mix, as well.  Some analysts believe that because of their demographic similarities, Wisconsin and Minnesota will vote the same way in the upcoming election.  Currently, President Obama has a commanding lead in Minnesota and a smaller one in Wisconsin.  He has been leading Michigan but Michigan has slowly been losing support for Obama.  Obama does have a lead in Ohio but it is a small and stubborn one.  We would expect the Romney campaign to focus on these Northern states to try and get these voting for Romney instead.  This would be a huge upset for Romney if he’s able to get Ohio and a two-state combination of Minnesota/Wisconsin/Michigan.
2.       Is this realistic?
Nate Silver at the blog Five Thirty-Eight has calculated that typically a vice-president is good for about 2% increase in his/her home state.  This depends on the favorability of the candidate in his/her home state, among other factors.  Those polled in Wisconsin, 38% of people have a favorable opinion of Paul Ryan while 33% had an unfavorable opinion of him.  Because of this, Nate Silver calculates that Ryan will only increase Romney’s margin in the polls by 0.7%.  Before he was named as vice-president, Ryan was known by approximately 50% of people.  Those people who had heard of him were almost entirely split on whether or not they liked him or not.  Nate Silver calculated how conservative/liberal each vice-president nominee has been over the last number of years and found that Ryan is the most conservative choice for vice-president, that he could find.  The information that Ryan is most known for is his “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal which polls poorly.   So, what we have with Ryan as the vice-president nominee is the most conservative choice who is not seen as particularly favorable even in his home state. 
  1. So, why choose Ryan?
When writing the vice-presidential power rankings, I tried to come up with a list of pros and cons for each of the potential nominees.  I’ll try to synthesize the pros I saw for Ryan with what I think the Romney campaign is doing.  Some analysts think that the Ryan nomination indicates that Romney and his campaign understand that he is behind and need a sort of game-changer to try to mix up the votes.  While Mitt Romney is the Republican choice for President, there are some people involved in the Conservative movement who are not necessarily enthralled with him as their candidate.  Most of these people are the ones who got heavily involved in the 2010 mid-term elections.  We might consider them to be the Tea Party.  Ryan, despite not being a true Tea Party member is someone who they can get behind.  With his stances on capping government spending and drastically reducing entitlement spending, fiscal conservatives might be able to get behind Ryan.  But how likely was it that members of the Tea Party would not vote for Mitt Romney, even if they disagree with him on some issues?  I don’t think it would be very likely.  There might be a few more people voting because they know there is someone that they support at the highest office. 
Ryan’s strength is policy.  While Romney has been running on ad hominem attacks and platitude values, he has been criticized by members of his own party and by Democrats as not having a coherent or serious policy.  Ryan brings to the table, his own policy agenda, albeit a controversial one.  The “Path to Prosperity” is a workable policy that Romney can get behind in his quest to be the first Mormon president.  Instead of just attacking Obama’s strategy of higher government revenues and reduced spending, Romney can bring out Ryan’s policy.  He can confidently say that they have a plan to get us out of the federal deficit problem that we have (although he may have to change some of it, as it is really unpopular).  This would challenge Obama to come up with a better plan.  Without a plan to contrast, Romney can continue to play up the bumbling leader angle.  The selection of Ryan as a running mate allows Romney to frame this campaign around the issues of his choosing.
The Ryan pick also allows Romney to focus on austerity measures for the government.  This allows the Romney campaign to portray the federal government as reckless entitlement spenders and they are the only ones with a solution to the problems facing America.  Romney has already stated that he plans to edit the Ryan plan to make it less radical but the focus will remain the same.
Micah Cohen who writes for the blog Five Thirty-Eight, as well found that Ryan is not likely to tip the election to Romney in any state besides Wisconsin, if he even does that at all.  Nate Silver tweeted that people are being too cute in their assumption that there are good states and bad states for Ryan.  Factoring that into our analysis leads us to the conclusion that Ryan was chosen for his possibility of tipping Wisconsin to Romney and his qualifications on the policy front as discussed above.
  1. Why was the Ryan selection a surprise?
This was the first year of running the Vice-Presidential power rankings, hopefully it will not be the last, but Ryan was in our top 5 for the majority of the time we were doing it.  He was not the favorite by this author.  I assumed that Romney would name either Rubio or Portman.  So, why did I have him so low on my rankings?  In order my concerns are as follows (from least important to most important):
  1. Paul Ryan once voted for a bill that would prohibit discrimination for sexual orientation.  While this was the only bill that be construed as something for gay rights, it is still surprising that he would have even one vote like that.  There is nothing wrong with voting to prohibit sexual discrimination but the GOP’s stance on gay rights might tempt some Republicans to not vote for a ticket with Ryan on it.  This is assuming that a) Republicans actually knew that about his voting record and b) they’re discouraged by that one vote as opposed to his countless other opposition votes to what one might consider gay rights. 
  2. We were not sure on the comfortability with the Romney campaign.  For instance, with Rob Portman, we knew that he had been an early supporter of Romney, even helping him with the Ohio primary.  This seemed to indicate a level of comfort that Portman had to Romney.  We did not have that with Ryan.  Or at least I was unable to find that information.  In addition to the comfortablility issue, Ryan is known not to just say no to something without offering up how he would fix it.  These cases of him saying how he would fix certain things might lead him to disagree with Romney.
  3. Paul Ryan was mainly a yes vote for the George W. Bush neoconservative fiscal and economic policy that may have contributed to the fiscal mess that Ryan is trying to remedy.  While Ryan did vote for such measures as the Bush tax cuts, TARP, among others, he is most well known, now, as the author of the “Path to Prosperity” which many fiscal conservatives respect, even if it is a bit radical.
  4. His experience may be a factor.  Ryan is essentially a career politician.  He has served seven terms as Congressman from Wisconsin and before that he worked for a think tank and worked for Sam Brownback.  Ryan has very little private sector experience, working as a marketing consultant for his family business, which many publications have called resume padding.  While Ryan has been a Congressman for seven terms, he has never run outside of his own district in a statewide election.  This may have shielded him from some spotlight and it has made it difficult to ascertain how Ryan would play to the state itself. While he has served on Congressional Committees for foreign policy, he does not have the experience someone like Portman brings to the table. This works against Romney in a couple of ways.  Romney has been touting his private sector experience thus far in his campaign.  With Ryan as the running mate, it might get a little harder to hammer Obama on his lack of private sector experience.  With Ryan not running in a statewide election, it’s unclear how he might affect Wisconsin (and possibly other swing states).  Romney’s biggest weakness, arguably, has been his lack of foreign policy.  Ryan does not necessarily bring the experience one might want in a presidential ticket on foreign policy experience.
  5. The “Path to Prosperity” is the biggest reason why I did not think Ryan would be selected to be the vice-president nominee for Romney.  The “Path to Prosperity” polls poorly among Americans, especially among Independents and Moderates.  Not only that, but Democrats have already been unfairly attacking the plan as destroying Medicare.  Adding Ryan to the ticket implies that you agree with his plan even if the plan is going to change.   Additionally, Romney has made  statements about not cutting the defense budget at all; these statements coupled with Ryan’s plan to cut entitlement spending has people worried about what we’re actually going to cut to make sure that we’re under the budget guidelines set forth. 

Next post: What we learned from the Ryan selection

Retro-diary: Seeing the President

President Obama visited Council Bluffs, Iowa today.  Iowa is an important swing state in the upcoming election and both candidates have made it a priority (well, sort of).  I have made a retro-diary of my experience.

06:22- Wake up freezing in my bed.  I'm slightly confused as to why I'm waking up before my alarm at 7. Why is my pillow so hot?  Time to flip it over.

07:00-  The alarm on my phone wakes me up.  It's pretty quiet. I thought I turned it on loud. Do I need to get up at this time?  Maybe five more minutes of sleep.

07:03-07:18- Showering.

07:19-07:31- Eating my Cocoa Puffs. Adult cereal is for suckers.

07:32-08:03- Going to Council Bluffs with my brother's girlfriend.  I'm tired. I hate mornings.

08:03-08:05- I wonder how many people I'll see that I recognize.  There are 25 school buses here, which one do I get on?  Do we have an organized system where we're getting on buses?

08:07-08:10- No, there is no organized system.  There is just a really long line. I'm standing next to a bus, #105, I remark to my brother's girlfriend, I bet that this is the bus we're on.  We're just going to move in this line to the front but the buses will have to move, too.  This doesn't make much sense.

08:10-08:30- I'm right. This system makes no sense.  We keep walking forward, the buses keep moving.

08:30-08:45- We're on the next bus.  We're told to go to the stop sign and wait.  The bus stops well before the stop sign.  We get on.  It's bus #105.  I hate being right.

08:45-08:58- We're riding along and people are talking to me.  I don't want to talk.  I don't like anyone at this time of day.  Please turn around and face the front. 

09:00- We're off the bus.  We're headed towards standing in a long line.  There is no end to this line that I can see.  The people in front of me and behind me are still talking to me about God knows what.

09:03- There is one person holding a Romney/Ryan sign on the other side of the street.  He looks strangely out of place.  His wife or significant other is trying to look in people's apartments.  I'm not sure if she's doing that but she keeps looking up at the building that is clearly an apartment building.

09:05-09:10- Oh, he's talking to somebody, I can't get a picture with my cameraphone.  I will still endeaver to do so.  People are walking up and down the sidewalk selling buttons and t-shirts.  If I had any cash on me, I would probably buy one. 

09:11- I sign up for voting by mail.

09:14- Looking at my phone, I realize the doors are supposed to open soon.  Also, it dawns on me that this will be the first time I see a Secret Service Agent.  I am stoked.

09:15-09:20- The K-9 unit Police car drives by, surprisingly, it is not one of the cars using their PA system to tell us to get back on the sidewalk.  Anyway, I find out from the lady ahead of me that if there are cats in a house, they cannot use the drug sniffing dogs.  Apparently, meth dealers are buying lots of cats so that the drug sniffing dogs cannot come in.  You may ask how does this lady know this information?  I don't know. I don't want to continue this conversation with her.

09:20-09:30- We're just standing in line.  I'm wasting time by trying to determine whether or not drug sniffing dogs would go crazy if you had other dogs or other pets.  Is it just pets?  Why do dogs hate cats so much in the first place?

09:31-09:35- Chad Johnson got arrested for headbutting his wife.  Peyton Manning looked good in his preseason debut.  Eric Decker might be my fantasy sleeper.  Peyton Hillis is on the Chiefs...and what's that in the distance?  Is that Republican protesters?

09:35-09:55- Finally, something to entertain me.  There are Republican protesters! Also, the Romney/Ryan guy has found his friends.  They're chanting, "eighty-four more days!"  They're chanting this over and over again.  I don't know if there are 84 more days before the election, but I assume that it is correct.  Worse for them, even if Obama does not get re-elected in November, the next president doesn't get inaugurated until January of next year.  You know, more than 84 days before somebody else would actually be President.  Another person has a sign that says "Yes, Mr. President, we did build this sign."  Congratulations to that person because clearly that person taught themselves how to read and write, how to make paper out of trees, how to create poster out of paper, then created the poster, taught themselves how to create a marker, then created the marker, then taught themselves how to latch onto a Republican talking point, and then created the sign.  I'm very impressed that you were able to do that all on your own.  Another sign said,"I'm a small business owner standing for Mitt."  Awesome.  Your small business either does not have an owner there today, you're not involved in the day to day business aspects of your job, or you've taken it upon yourself to discuss your political view with strangers that have no interest in participating with your small business any longer.  I don't think those are positives. 

09:55-10:00- I see the Secret Service people! I'm so excited.  I want them to search me.  But then again, that might be a harrowing experience.  There's some debate about whether or not I have to show my ID.  Listen, if I don't have to show my ID to vote, I sure as hell am not going to show it to see the President. 

10:00-10:15- Walking into the park, saying hello to the Obama for America state director of Nebraska and going to the place where we're going to stand for the next two hours.  There's a tree over here.  Just going to stand here, next to the Firefighters for Obama and Biden.  This should be interesting.

10:16-10:30- Listening to music that has nothing to do with politics.  I think Obama should run out to Eye of the Tiger.  Also, I wonder who will introduce Obama.

10:31- I wonder, how do I get to sit behind the President?

I actually lost track of the time after that.  I was starting to get hungry. 

A pastor comes up to pray.  Now, I have nothing against religion or anything like that.  I'm just not sure that prayer has any business in a political forum.  But you know what, it doesn't matter.  If there was no prayer then we would hear about how Democrats hate Christianity. 

Leonard Boswell comes up next.  His daughter is onstage for some inexplicable reason.  He makes some jokes that don't really land.  People want to see Barack Obama.

Next up, the Secretary of Agriculture, who is from Iowa asks a series of rhetorical questions that are supposed to get us fired up.  There's a chant of four more years.  I do not join in. I do not like chanting.

Next up, a volunteer for Obama for America wants us to volunteer for Obama's campaign.  She makes a series of arguments that appeal to our emotions.  People cheer after she makes these arguments. 

More time lapses.

Another speaker.  She is going to introduce Barack Obama.  Who is she?  She works at the U.P. Museum in Council Bluffs.  She has kind of a downer speech that is supposed to appeal to our emotions.  But she introduces Barack Obama!

Finally, the reason I came. 

He starts with some light-hearted banter about Iowa and how he's going to visit the state fair.  He said that Michelle will not let him eat a fried twinkie.  Last time he was here, he was able to do the bumper cars but he wasn't president, things like that.

Obama's main message in this stop was to argue that we need to build the economy from the middle out or the bottom up and not the top down.  His argument is that tax breaks from the top will not stimulate the economy.  We may have a deficit but we need to fix that with increased taxes from the wealthy and spending cuts.  He talks about people like him need to pay more. 

He also talks about how if you see Paul Ryan, you needto let him know that he needs to help pass the Farm Bill to help out Iowan/Nebraskan farmers.  He also talks about his accomplishments, getting out of the wars, getting Osama bin Laden, passing Obamacare, etc.

He ends most of his paragraphs with this is a choice and that's why I'm running for President for a second term. 

My cynical nature wants to criticize Obama's arguments that are based on appeals to emotions, which they are.  He also misstates his own "facts" giving himself too much credit.  For instance, he overstates how many people will be able to stay on health insurance and how much the middle class will save with his tax plan as opposed to Romney's.  It also would criticize Obama for not doing more in the clean energy sector like he said he would.  But, I'm reminded of something that David Foster Wallace wrote in his political essay, "Up, Simba" where he contrasts the differences between presidential candidates by lableing them as salesmen and leaders.  A great salesman, he argued, could sell you on a particular idea or ideal but you know deep down that they do not really believe in what they are pitching.  They are trying to give you an opinion of what they think is the best for you.  Just like a great salesman in any field.  A leader on the other hand, you know it when you see it.  When you're with a great leader, something is different.  You are inspired to help out.  You are inspired to believe what is best is what they are saying.  You know the difference between a great salesman and a great leader, instinctually.  Of course, David Foster Wallace was writing about John McCain in 2000, when he called him a leader.  I am using Wallace's explanation to describe someone who actually ran against McCain in 2008.  Barack Obama is not a salesman but rather a leader.  The opinion on whether or not he is a good leader is up to the individual.  I think that part of the reason that Obama is so highly contested by his opponents is because he is a leader, he inspires the worst in some people.  Romney is a salesman.  He might be a great salesman.  I haven't seen anything that would make me say that he is a leader.  You can correct me if I'm wrong.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Debating Taxes

Josiah wrote a couple of posts on facebook about taxes and since this is the Internet, I immediately thought everyone should know what I think about it. In my last post I gave an illustration of why deficit spending doesn't really matter; any burden placed on the nation by the government is a result only of spending. I want to try and explain that a little better and point out something most people miss when they debate taxes and spending.

Every time the government spends a dollar, it literally spends a dollar bill. In other words, the government, for the most part, does not buy on credit. I'm sure there are some small counter examples, but in the scheme of the trillion-plus dollar budget, they are minuscule. The government has to raise money for everything it spends. Dollars in equals dollars out. So how does it do it?

The federal government has 4  ways of financing its spending:
1) collecting taxes
2) selling treasury bonds
3) printing more dollars
4) taking by force

No matter which of the four ways the government chooses to use, it has to raise exactly the same amount of dollars. In other words, the magnitude of the burden created is exactly the same. What determines the size of that burden? Spending, and spending alone.

The only difference between the four financing options is who the burden is placed on. This a fundamental point I think people miss when they debate taxes. Too often I see in debates people debating taxing and spending at the same time, when it would be much more productive to debate the two parts individually. The debate should be

1) Does the benefit of this particular spending outweigh the burden? For example, is the benefit from this road worth the burden of paying for it, or is this aircraft carrier worth how much we are paying? Whether a particular program or purchase is "paid for" with taxes does not matter. The only point to argue here is if the costs outweigh the benefits.

2) How should the burden be distributed? The important point here is that the burden we are talking about is the entire burden. It is meaningless to say that we will make the rich spend for something and the middle class pay for something else. Dollars are fungible. When debating this topic, we are talking about distributing the entire burden of government spending.

In my next post, I'll discuss how the four ways of federal financing place the burden on different people. As always feel free to comment.