Tuesday, March 26, 2013

For Supreme Court news and updates...

Please read SCOTUSblog.  They do a great job.

Poll time: South Carolina's 1st Congressional District

With the run-off election for the Republican nomination for South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, quickly approaching, Public Policy Polling did a poll of the 1st Congressional District to see where the races stand at this point.

Well, where do we stand?

Let's start with this:

This is a Republican leaning district.  Barack Obama's approval rating is 41/57. 

Despite this, Democrat sister of genius satirist Elizabeth Colbert Bush leads Republican hiker Mark Sanford 47-45.  Colbert Bush is tied with Curtis Bostic at 43.  Colbert Busch (45/31) is seen more favorably than Sanford (34/58).  Even with Republicans, he's not immensely popular.  His favorability is 55/40.

Sanford leads Bostic in a head to head matchup 53-40 at this point.  But only 77% of voters have heard of Bostic while 95% have heard of Sanford.  Among those who have heard of Bostic, he only trails Sanford 49-46.  This suggests that Bostic could overtake Sanford if he closes the name recognition gap but unfortunately for Bostic, he doesn't have much time left.

The question for the general match-up is will the Republicans who do not like Sanford vote for him in a general election.  Those who are undecided in a Sanford vs. Colbert Busch matchup overwhelmingly voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election (77/12).  They might be inclined to vote for Colbert Busch or stay at home in the general election if Sanford is the nominee.  If Sanford becomes the nominee and he shores up his Republican base, then he would likely win.

Sanford's wife would have been a much better selection for the Republican nominee.  Her favorability is 55/18.  She has high marks among Republicans (57/15), Independents (54/16), and Democrats (53/24).

My man-crush Stephen Colbert's favorability in the district is 34/27.  Newly appointed Senator Tim Scott's approval rating is quite high (53/26) which makes him more popular than Governor Nikki Haley (41/45) and Senator Lindsey Graham (40/44). 

Friday, March 22, 2013

A glimpse of the world according to Michele Bachmann

Former Republican Presidential hopeful and current congresswoman Michele Bachmann was invited to speak at CPAC.  Bachmann's worldview is the same worldview that is shared on my Facebook feed all the time.  She says things that are instantly repeated by some Republicans, as fact.

So, how does Michele Bachmann see the world?

Well, she believes that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation, but oh well, I'll skip that.  But Bachmann believes that 70% of food stamp funding goes to bureaucrats.  She said, "of every dollar that you hold in your hands, 70 cents of that dollar that's supposed to go to the poor doesn't. It actually goes to benefit the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Seventy cents on the dollar. That's how the president's caring works in practice. So three dollars in food stamps for the needy, seven dollars in salaries and pensions for the bureaucrats who are supposed to be taking care of the poor. So with all due respect, I ask you, how does this show that our president cares about the poor?"

So, in her world bureaurcrats are lining their pockets with the poney that is supposed to be for the poor.  This is a popular view among Republicans and Conservatives that bureaucrats are just getting rich while us hard-working Americans are getting poor.  PolitiFact investigated this claim. Their findings:

In 2012, the Food and Nutrition Service spent about $112 billion, not only for food stamps but for other smaller nutritional programs.  They spent about $136.5 million on administration.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities came up with about 5% being spent on administration.  PolitiFact found that if you include pensions, you can bring it up a little higher but still well short of 70%.

The study that she likely got it from, showed that the money used to help the poor would be payments to the non-poor for assistance of the poor, for example Medicaid payments going to doctors, housing subsidies going to landlords.  This doesn't apply to food stamps. 

Why would she read the footnote or look into something further if she reads something that she agrees with?  Bachmann's comments are going to make Republicans beam with pride about those fat cat bureaucrats pocketing money from the poor despite  the fact that it's not as true as you'd like it to be.  But Bachmann and others like her want you to hear it, so you associate it with it being true.  When people say claims like this that are not true you can see into how they view the world.  Bachmann obviously wants this claim to be true and there are a number of people who want it to be true.  It doesn't make it true.

What else is going on in the world of Michele Bachmann?

According to Bachmann, we could have a cure to Alzheimer's disease in 10 years if we put our mind to it.  What's stopping us?  the "government, proclaiming to care so much, has created a cadre of overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators. That's not caring. It's time we care."

Interesting.  Another one that certainly appeals to people.  Well, only if it was true.  PolitiFact investigated this claim, too. "The only thing keeping us from developing successful treatments for Alzheimer's disease is the lack of adequate funding for research from NIH and other federal agencies," said Robert A. Stern, a neurologist and neurosurgeon, as well as a director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the Boston University School of Medicine. "That has nothing to do with her naive and scary statements. It only has to do with Congress deciding that it is worth spending money on."  So, this is pretty much the exact opposite of what Bachmann would advocate for, MORE government spending.  You're telling me that government spending on health related issues might help? Crazy.

The other problem is that scientists aren't really sure what causes Alzheimer's.  There's not really a clinical trial that can interventions and cures within a reasonable timeframe. 

It should be noted that other diseases might show that there are some overzealous regulation or litigation stopping it, but it's unclear which diseases those might be.

This is another popular notion but the factos Bachmann cites is not a factor in determining a cure for Alzheimer's, presently.  In Bachmann's world, there is a bloated federal government stopping us from discovering cures to diseases that plague us.  But in reality, scientists want more funding to research it. 

So what have we learned?

Bachmann and others believe that the government is intervening in our lives to the point where the poor are being taken advantage of and we're being prevented from having cures to diseases.  If only we curtailed regulation and cut the bureaucracy, this would simply solve the problems.  Unfortunately, this isn't the truth.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Passing a budget

A popular claim to criticize both President Obama and the Democratic controlled Senate is to say that they haven't passed a budget and are violating the Constitution, in doing so.  Sarah Palin made this claim at CPAC about the Senate and criticized the President in the past, for the same reason. 

Palin claimed that a failure to pass a budget is in violation of Article 1 Section 9 Clause 7.  But that says nothing about a budget resolution.  It wasn't added to law until the 1974 Budget Act.  But it isn't strictly enforced.  Every once in a while I'll read that Barack Obama has not passed a budget in his presidency or whatever.  As PolitiFact wrote, "the president doesn't pass a budget.  That's Congress' job." Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense noted, "the president has no role in passing a budget."  Ideally, we want to look at Congress.  Specifically, is it unconstitutional for them not to pass a budget?

Article 1 Section 9 Clause 7 states: No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

The Congressional Research Service notes that the clause "...does not restrict Congress in appropriating moneys in the treasury."  They also note that the Supreme Court "has also recognized that Congress has a wide discretion with regard to the extent to which it shall prescribe details of expenditures for which it appropriates funds and has approved the frequent practice of making general appropriations of large amounts to be allotted and expended as directed by designated government agencies.”

FactCheck notes that Congress does not have to spell out how it's going to spend the money, some details are left up to federal agencies.  Congress appropriates money through appropriations bills.  According to Louis Fischer, a constitutional scholar, Congress complies with that clause by appropriating funds each year, even if the Senate does not pass a budget.  He noted that the Budget Act did not even exist until 1974. 

Since the Act was passed, Congress has only met the deadline six times.  Congress failed to complete a budget act four other years before now.  Those years were 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2007.  Let's take a look at who was in power then.  I'm using the year prior to the year listed above as usually it is passed a year in advance.

1998President: Bill Clinton (D)
Senate: Republicans 55-45
House: Republicans 226-207

President: George W. Bush (R)
Senate: Split 50/50
House: Republicans 221-212

President: George W. Bush (R)
Senate: Republicans 51-48
House: Republicans 229-205

President: George W. Bush
Senate: Republicans 55-44
House: Republicans 231-202

So where was the complaints from the Republican party about it not being constitutional all these other times? 

I digress.

The Washington Post noted correctly that a budget does not have the force of law.  They have no incentive to do so.

It's interesting to blame the Senate for not passing a budget but it's not unconstitutional to not pass a budget.  Let's try that again.  The Senate is not required to pass a budget by the Constitution.  They are required to by law of the Budget Act of 1974 but there is no penalty for not passing a budget.  It has happened in the past by Republicans. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Log Cabin Republicans

The last time I mentioned the Log Cabin Republicans, I was critical of them because of their choice to endorse Mitt Romney and to be, in my opinion, overly critical of Chuck Hagel.  But with CPAC happening, a lot of outlets decided to make the erroneous claim that the Log Cabin Republicans were banned.  The executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans stated in an op-ed piece for The Daily Caller that they were not invited.  In that same op-ed, Gregory Angelo, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, states that the slight majority of Republicans under 30 actually support same-sex marriage (51%).  This is a trend that is growing, younger people are becoming more and more open to same-sex marriage, while by and large, the people who are against it are older.  Angelo warns the American Conservative Union and CPAC that "[if they continue] to pursue a mantra of exclusion and use CPAC to showcase individuals who believe gay conservatives have no business being a part of the greater conservative movement, they should know they do so at their own peril — and at the cost of alienating the next generation of American conservatives."

Maybe I won't be so critical of the Log Cabin Republicans, next time.

A first

In the special election for the 1st Congressional District in South Carolina, a  new state law that requires all voters to show id before voting is in place.  It was blocked for the 2012 presidential election but the judges ruled that it did not discriminate against racial minorities and so it is now in place. I've written about voter id laws in the past.  This law will probably not impact voter turnout in this election as it is a special election and is just for the congressional district.  It might be interesting to look at how it might affect turnout in subsequent elections.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mark Sanford's Second Second Chance

South Carolina's 1st Congressional District's special election primary was on Tuesday.  My prediction was as follows:

Elizabeth Colbert Busch >65%
Ben Frasier ~30%

Mark Sanford 33%
Larry Grooms 17%
John Kuhn 16%
Curtis Bostic 11%
Teddy Turner 10%
Chip Limehouse 8%
Others ~5%

Well, how did I do?  According to Politico, with close to 100% reporting, we can see that.

Elizabeth Colbert Busch 95.9%
Ben Frasier 4.1%

Mark Sanford 36.9%
Curtis Bostic 13.2%
Larry Grooms 12.4%
Teddy Turner 7.9%
Andy Patrick 7.1%
John Kuhn 6.5%
Chip Limehouse 6.1%
Others: 9.9%

Did I learn anything?  Yes.  Don't underestimate the power of a candidate who appeals to evangelical Christians in a low turnout election.  It's certainly possible that Sanford loses the run-off election in April but as he hovers over 35% he will be tougher and tougher to beat.  Bostic could make it difficult for Sanford.

Colbert Busch will be able to save up money and face while Sanford and potentially Bostic duel it out over the next couple of weeks spending valuable money and resources.  These duels could also shine a negative light on either of the candidates.

Apparently, if the margin is less than 1% then there is a required recount.  This could severely hamper whoever ends up in 2nd place in terms of mounting a serious effort to beat Sanford.

Likely, we'll see Sanford match up against Colbert Busch in May, in a leaning Republican district.

Kelly Ayotte appeals to her base: Part 1

If I were to ask you to craft a speech that needed to be delivered at CPAC, what would you focus on? Would your speech focus on Obamacare, unemployment, taxing small businesses, and radical Islamists? You mean there's other subjects out there? Kelly Ayotte, Junior Senator from New Hampshire, decided to focus on those issues during her speech(es).

Senator Ayotte said,”Let me tell you about some of the things that keep me up at night. Too many Americans are out of work. Federal regulations are strangling businesses. Obamacare is increasing health care costs and stopping so many businesses from hiring.” Ayotte who was a potential choice to be Mitt Romney's running mate, seems to still be stuck in 2012 campaign mode.

Not that it really matters, she does appeal to the base of the Republican party but I thought we might like to talk about some of what she said.

I'll start with “too many Americans are out of work.” If you've been following the news, at all, you'd know that the unemployment percentage is now at 7.7% which is the lowest since the beginning of the great recession in March 2008. In February, we saw an increase of more than 200,000 jobs which is better than the average of the previous three months which was slightly under 200,000 jobs per month. The DOW set all-time highs recently and the signs of the economy seem to be in a net positive position. The jobs will come if you believe the Congressional Budget Office, who projected that 10-12 million jobs would be created from 2013-2017. Of course, Republicans don't like this measure, anymore. If the economy shows sign of recovery under a Democratic president, it must be misleading. More and more, Conservatives and Republicans are citing that there are millions more Americans not working now, like they were four years ago. Most of that increase, as PolitiFact notes is because of the graying of the baby boomer generation. Also, there is a long-term trend of people leaving the working population for other reasons (PolitiFact compares the numbers to George W. Bush's presidency). All in all, they find that it has increased by about one million people compared to under President Bush. But it's hard to know what caused those 1 million more people to leave the workforce, whether it be President Obama's policies or the recession or whatever.

“Federal regulations are strangling businesses.” This has been a popular refrain from the Republican party for years now. The World Bank did a study, in order to find out which country or area was most conducive for the starting and operating of a firm. The United States ranked fourth which means that the regulatory environment is very conducive for starting and operating a local firm. PolitiFact quotes Dean Baker an economist for the Center for Economic Policy Research who says,”We had a more regulated economy in most areas in the 1940s to the 1980s than we do today. In banking not only did we have the Glass-Steagall restrictions that separated banks and investment banks, but we also controlled interest and interstate banking. The government set airline, tucking, electricity, and even oil prices.” The reason for the recession, according to most experts, could be, at least, partially blamed on lax regulations. This includes weak oversight of mortgage markets and Wall Street transactions. BarryBosworth, an economist at the Brookings Institute notes, “countries such as Canada that have more regulation did notably better than the United States.”

“Obamacare is increasing health care costs and stopping so many businesses from hiring.” Surely, Senator Ayotte and her supporters, who routinely claim to have read all of the Obamacare law text, know that the major part of the law doesn't take place until 2014. So, I'm not really sure about how true her claim might be.
The study that is somewhat commonly cited in reference to these claims was conducted by Mercer and asked companies about what they thought would happen in 2014 to costs. In 2014, 51% thought that costs would increase by 4% or less. 20% thought it would increase costs by 5% and 29% did not know what to expect.

Sometimes people will talk about Papa John's, as the example to businesses not hiring because of Obamacare. The CEO of Papa John's wrote in an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post that he was actually hiring for 5,000 more jobs worldwide, opening hundreds of stores, and he would not cut team hours as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

PolitiFact found no large-scale studies that businesses are not hiring because of Obamacare.

When the Congressional Budget Office studied the Affordable Care Act, they found that it would reduce the number of people in the labor force because they might decide to work fewer hours or fewer jobs, retire earlier than they normally would, all because of the subsidies in the law. They did find that there would be a small decrease in the amount of jobs primarily on low-wage workers. The CBO reported that businesses might respond by hiring more seasonal or part-time workers. FactCheck spoke with Elizabeth McGlynn, associate director of the health unit at RAND Corp., stated that most large businesses already offer health insurance. Most small businesses are excluded from the mandate. So it's a relatively few firms that would be affected. The CBO reported that most of the effects would not be felt until after 2014, because “it will take time for workers and employers to recognize and adapt to the new incentives.” I have sent an e-mail to Senator Ayotte and will include her response if I get one back.

The other part of the claim was that Obamacare is increasing health care costs. Again, the major portion of Obamacare is not in effect until 2014. But oh well. Health care insurance premimu costs have increased but most analysts agree that the increase is mainly due to other things besides Obamacare. They estimate that Obamacare is responsible for, on average, 1-3% of the increase. The increase in health care costs are anywhere in the range of 8% and higher which only a portion can be blamed on Obamacare. Not that any of this matters, people have a hard time differentiating correlation and causation. Most of the increase in health insurance is due to health care costs that have skyrocketed prior to Obamacare (see article linked above) But overall, health care costs have gone down, saying below 4% for each of the last twoyears. But again, this has nothing to do with Obamacare as major portions of the law have yet to actually start. Once it is in effect, then maybe we could actually make these types of claims.

Senator Ayotte also said in her speech that we have a broken tax code and the President and Senate Democrats want to increase taxes making it harder for small businesses to grow and put people to work in this country. Ah yes. This sounds familiar. Doesn't it? It sounds exactly what Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were saying during election time. They kept saying how they would fix the tax code, even though they didn't mention what tax loopholes they would cut. Then when non-partisan organizations showed the error of Romney's ways, he criticized the non-partisan organization for being partisan. But I digress. The plan for avoiding the sequester from President Obama proposed $200 billion cut in defense spending, new efficiencies in health care to save $400 billion, eliminating some agriculture subsidies and reforming the postal service. On the revenue side, President Obama would call for closing tax loopholes and capping deductions to 28 percent for the wealthiest Americans. The Senate Democrats plan was to cancel the $85.3 billion sequester and replace it over several years with a mixture of spending cuts and tax increases. The bill proposed would cut $27.5 billion from defense spending and $27.5 billion from agriculture funding. It would raise $55 billion in revenue by instituting the Buffet rule (minimum tax rate of 30 percent on income over $1 million) and ending tax deductions for oil companies. Of course, these plans failed, but we can look to see who would be affected by them. Republicans like to claim that the wealthiest people in America are these small business owners. This is, of course, not true. Only 8% of small business owners have an income of $200,000 or more. Slightly more than half of small business owners reported income of less than $50,000 and half of those reported having a tax loss. Only 0.5% of small businesses reported a profit of $1 million. Of the taxpayers that had their taxes increased, 11% reported any small business income and 9% qualify as small business owners. Of course, since all I'm relying on is feelings, I'm obviously wrong.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Illinois and Bloomberg

There’s another special election coming up in April in Illinois.  The primaries were held in February and to be honest with you, I missed them.  The general special election will be held on April 9, which coincides with the municipal general elections.  You know who didn’t forget about the 2nd Congressional District primary?  Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC spent nearly $2 million in the primary on behalf of state Representative Robin Kelly. The ads blasted one of Kelly’s opponents for supporting the NRA.  This isn’t likely to win him any favors with those who think he is ruining the country.  Debbie Halvorson, the opponent, had an A+ rating with the NRA, which did not help her in the heavily leaning Democratic district.  The ads highlighted the difference between the candidates and steered many to vote for Kelly.  Because of how the district leans, heavily Democratic, Kelly is the likely favorite when the general election comes around on April 9.  Mayor Bloomberg will likely not have to spend near as much money on this campaign as before.  If you talk to people about, even local, elections they’ll cite that Bloomberg and his PAC are injecting millions of dollars into races that probably don’t deserve that kind of money spent.  In Los Angeles, Bloomberg’s PAC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on school board races to help the people he wants to get elected.  If this continues, Bloomberg is going to become a major player in electoral politics, if he is not, already.

South Carolina's Special Election

South Carolina’s special election
On Tuesday, the 1st District in South Carolina will hold their primaries for the special election to replace former Congressman and current Senator Tim Scott.  The Democratic primary is basically sewn up at this point, Elizabeth Colbert Busch is poised to win the Democratic nomination.  Colbert Busch has a famous brother in Stephen Colbert.  Thanks to her brother’s fame, she has gotten some media attention and has been a good fundraiser.  She only has one opponent in the Democratic primary, who is Ben Frasier, who is viewed as an also-ran. 
The Republican primary is where most of the attention is being focused.  Former Governor Mark Sanford is trying to make a political comeback by becoming a Congressman.  Sanford is hailing himself as the most Conservative of the various candidates.  Sanford has not been hiking in Appalachia recently and appears to be a serious force in this election.  He is running against 15 other Republicans who are trying to get the nomination.  Because of the large field, it is unlikely that even someone as recognized as Sanford will get more than 50% of the vote.  This will force a runoff election in April before the general election in May.  Sanford is the prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination, but who might come in 2nd place for the runoff? 
There are 5 candidates who appear to be serious challengers. 
1. Chip Limehouse- Limehouse is well known in Charleston because his family owns several hotels, a real estate company, and several other businesses.  He has also served in the state House since 1995 representing much of the Northern part of the district.  Limehouse has run a very aggressive television ad campaign and has spent more on the campaign than any other candidates, approximately $600,000. Limehouse was endorsed by another former governor of South Carolina, Jim Edwards.
2. Teddy Turner- Turner the son of Ted Turner and stepson of actress Jane Fonda is going against his liberal father’s wishes by being a Republican.  Turner, though, is running as the political outsider.  As the only top-tier candidate who has not held elected office so he does not have the traditional support.  Turner has had to run more ads than the other candidates and has spent about $350,000 of his own money on the campaign.  Turner got in trouble with the police in 2006 when he kicked in a door when his estranged wife wouldn’t answer it.
3. Curtis Bostic- Bostic is a former marine who mainly appeals to the evangelical Christian community and the home school community.  I don’t know why the National Journal said this.  Is there a large population of home schoolers in South Carolina?  I am now curious.  Hold on.  I can’t find the percentages.  But apparently, there are home school co-ops that you can join.  Bostic has hosted three different Christian radio talk shows in Charleston over the last 15 years.  Bostic doesn’t have much money to spend on the campaign and has primarily been spending time on getting the evangelical voters out to vote for him.  He also doesn’t live in the district, which will be a deterrent to some people.
4. Larry Grooms- he has been a member of the state’s Senate since 1997.  Grooms is running on basically the Tea Party ticket and has been touting his business acumen.  Apparently, he and his wife started a convenience store and grew it to a chain.  He has been mentioning his positions on same-sex marriage and the sanctity of life to compete with Bostic for the evangelical vote.
5. John Kuhn- he was in the State Senate and was defeated in part because of Mark Sanford’s wife’s contribution to his opponent.  Kuhn took out a loan of $500,000 to help support his campaign.  He has fairly high name recognition in Charleston because of his time in the State’s Senate and his time as an attorney.
I imagine that Sanford won’t get 50% of the vote which would trigger a run-off.  My predictions are as follows:
Elizabeth Colbert Busch: >65%
Ben Frasier: ~30%
Mark Sanford: 33%
Larry Grooms: 17%
John Kuhn: 16%
Curtis Bostic: 11%
Teddy Turner: 10%
Chip Limehouse: 8%
Others: ~5%
I doubt I’ll be right on the percentages, but I think Grooms has a good shot of finishing 2nd because I think it will be a lower voter turnout which will help Grooms and Bostic a little bit.

Jeff Frazee: Who is that?

On Saturday, March 16, the Conservative Political Action Conference ended. Despite my fervent wishes, I was not invited to speak or go to the conference for free. But what all happened? Did anything relevant happen?

Well, here's a list of the speakers

So, for the next couple of posts, I might try to give you as much information as possible about this conference to see if it strikes your fancy. If not, oh well.

I took a look at the various speakers at the list and decided to write about each of the people who was speaking at the conference. One of these people were Jeff Frazee. Frazee is the president of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). YAL is a libertarian group, seemingly focused on getting younger people involved in the Libertarian movement. A lot of that focus seems to be on the college campus. I could not find Frazee talking at the conference but there is an interview I found

It's interesting if you're a libertarian or have thought about embracing that political philosophy. It's interesting to see how the Republican party simultaneously embraces certain ideas of the Libertarian philosophy in their rhetoric while condemning other parts. This was on full display at CPAC in 2010 where Frazee was told he was an enemy for supporting GOProud a gay Republican organization that was a co-sponsor of the event.

If the Republican party moves towards the middle on social issues, it will, likely embrace more of the Libertarian philosophies, which will certainly be appealing to those who have worked in the grassroots part of the party.

The Conservative Neurosurgeon

On Saturday, March 16, the Conservative Political Action Conference ended. Despite my fervent wishes, I was not invited to speak or go to the conference for free. But what all happened? Did anything relevant happen?

Well, here's a list of the speakers

So, for the next couple of posts, I might try to give you as much information as possible about this conference to see if it strikes your fancy. If not, oh well.

If you've been paying attention to right-wing media, and let's face it, who isn't, you'd realize there is a new person who everyone is falling all over. Dr. Ben Carson. I read his auto-biography when I was younger. I cannot be certain but I think my friends and I made a move about the book that we showed in Religion class. I was fantastic. But I digress.

Dr. Carson got some notoriety during the National Prayer Breakfast. He called for a flat tax designed from the Bible in which we would tithe 10%. These types of taxes are more regressive than our current progressive tax structure. The progressive tax structure has been something that Republicans and Conservatives have been, increasingly, critical of in the last couple of years. Dr. Carson was also critical of Obamacare calling for an expansion of the free market into health care. He also talked about the health savings account which everyone would have at birth to help pay for health care later in life. Dr. Carson's speech was criticized by liberals for being critical of President Obama while mere feet away from him and also for the ideas expressed in his speech. Liberals and Conservatives alike were critical of him for bringing things like that up in a traditionally nonpartisan event. Dr. Carson also railed against the politically correct nature of America which plays well with Conservatives and talked briefly about getting back to God which definitely appeals to Conservative voters.

Now that you're all caught up on Dr. Ben Carson, it should be noted that he was invited to be a speaker at CPAC despite him repeatedly saying that he is “politically independent.” Dr. Carson announced in his speech at CPAC that he will be retiring from medicine. His speech touched on what would happen if “you magically put him in the White House.” His speech at CPAC, which was carried live on Fox News something Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann can't say, was a continuation of his comments from the National Prayer Breakfast. He called again for a flat tax saying that “if God thinks that proportionality is fair, who are we to say that it is unfair?” He called for the health savings accounts. He also stated that corporate taxes should be lower to encourage growth, not surprising considering where he was making that speech. But most importantly, he talked about ending the war on God. Apparently, there's a war that I was unaware of, being waged against an omnipotent and omniscient being. It doesn't sound winnable.

Dr. Carson talked briefly about some other subjects, too. Stating that charities do a better job providing for the needy than the government. He said, “nobody is starving on the streets. We've always taken care of them. We take care of our own; we always have. It is not the government's responsibility.” I agree with part of that sentiment. I'm sure charities are better providing for the needy in some cases. There are certain things that they are more equipped to do. But to say that nobody is starving on the streets is just ludicrous. You're welcome to walk with me in Los Angeles from Union Station to my internship. If you don't see someone starving in the streets, I'll personally introduce you for your inauguration as president.

It wouldn't be a speech for Conservatives if we didn't talk about socialism. Dr. Carson claimed that socialism was born in response to America and a lot of people don't know that. Socialism was probably born out of the French Revolution in 1789. At least the roots of socialism were. The phrase socialism was not coined until 1832. It was primarily thought of in response to the industrial revolution and the large disparity in wealth between the rich and the poor. If you squint long and hard enough, I suppose that you could make the claim that socialism was born in response to the United States. I don't think it's a claim, I would be comfortable with saying at a conference in front of potentially millions of people.

Dr. Carson left the possibility open for him to run for president in 2016. This made a lot of Conservatives happy. He finished tied for 7th in the Washington Times/CPAC 2013 straw poll with Ted Cruz at 4% of the vote. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio were the two leaders with over 20% of the vote, each. Dr. Carson finished fairly strong out of the 24 people mentioned, despite a lack of name recognition or being previously elected to office.

Note: I'm an idiot and had to fix the language in the part about progressive and regressive taxes

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Open Letter: Kelly Ayotte

Senator Ayotte,

As someone who is consistently trying to find the truth in politics, I watched portions of the CPAC, hoping to find a politician that I could trust and support.  During Senator Ayotte's speech, she mentioned that part of what kept her up at night was that Obamacare is stopping so many businesses from hiring.  As, I'm sure Senator Ayotte is aware, the major portion that affects businesses does not go into effect until 2014.  Because of this, I'm wondering where she is getting evidence for such a claim.

Thank you,
Josiah Shanks

I'll post the response if I get it.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Now supporting gay marriage...

Rob Portman, Senator from Ohio, became the first sitting Republican member of the US Senate to openly support gay marriage.  Portman's son came out of the closet two years ago.  Portman announced his support for gay marriage, in part because of his realization that he wanted his son to be able to marry.  Portman was one of the top candidates to be Mitt Romney's running mate.  Portman, apparently, told Romney about his gay son during the vetting process.  It, apparently, was not a secret in political circles about his gay son.

Portman announced his support in anticipation of people asking him about gay marriage with the upcoming Supreme Court case.  Portman did not discuss about how he felt about the cases on the Supreme Court.  He made it very clear that it was a personal decision.  It is possible that he will come out in support of overturning Proposition 8 but has not said so at this time.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Abortion issues since the 2012 election: Kentucky

Kentucky tried to pass SB 5 which would require an ultrasound prior to having an abortion.  It has not passed the Kentucky house.  The Kentucky Senate also passed SB 4 which would have required patients to have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor prior to having an abortion.  This also failed in the Kentucky House. 

At the risk of sounding lke an appeal to authority, the American College of Obstetics and Gynecology has recommended that ultrasounds should only be required where it is medically necessary. 

A number of House bills in Kentucky concerning abortion failed.  These include passing a bill prohibiting insurance companies from covering abortions on the health insurance exchange.  Other bills included banning abortions if a heartbeat was detected.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How to use exit polls to mislead: Part 2

I embrace statistics. But I also recognize when statistics can be misleading. Certain people like to say that you can make statistics say whatever you want, if you know how to manipulate them. That is true to an extent. But you can’t make something categorically untrue all of a sudden true by manipulating statistics. This is obvious to almost everyone. No matter how you manipulate the statistics, you can’t prove that Eddie Gaedel is a greater power hitter than Babe Ruth. But you can manipulate statistics to prove half-true or even misleading truths.
Take the statement that Mark McGwire is a better power hitter than Babe Ruth. How would one go about proving it? You would construct an argument that sets out to prove it. This could take any number of forms but we’ll use a fairly easy one to show how the manipulation of stats works.
1. The greatest power hitter is the hitter who uses the least amount of at-bats to hit the highest amount of home runs (or more simply, the greatest power hitter has the least amount of at-bats per home run.)
2. Mark McGwire hit a home run every 10.61 at-bats
3. Babe Ruth hit a home run every 11.76 at-bats.
4. Therefore, Mark McGwire is the better power hitter.
According to this argument, Mark McGwire is the better power hitter. Is there a problem with this argument? Obviously, it is a valid argument. This means that the truth of the premises entail the truth of the conclusion. Is it a sound argument? Maybe. It depends on how you feel about the first premise. Maybe at-bats per home run are an inadequate way to measure the ability of a power hitter. Consider the following:
1. The greatest power hitter is the hitter who uses the least amount of at-bats to hit the highest amount of home runs (or more simply, the greatest power hitter has the least amount of at-bats per home run.)
2. Russell Branyan hit a home run every 15.12 at-bats.
3. Hank Aaron hit a home run every 16.38 at-bats.
4. Therefore, Russell Branyan is a greater power hitter than Hank Aaron.
Of course, now the argument seems ridiculous on its face. This might violate common sense principles that we have but we could certainly use statistics in such a way that prove that Branyan is a greater power hitter than Hank Aaron. So, now we want to disprove that Branyan is a greater power hitter than Aaron. An easy way to do this is like this.
1. The greatest power hitter is the hitter who has the most amount of home runs in his career.
2. Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs in his career.
3. Russell Branyan hit 194 home runs in his career.
4. Therefore, Hank Aaron is the greater power hitter.
All done. We’ve now proved that Aaron is the greater power hitter than Branyan. You should, by now, realize where I’m going with this. Does the argument hold up in all cases?
1. The greatest power hitter is the hitter who has the most amount of home runs in his career.
2. Chili Davis hit 350 home runs in his career.
3. Hank Greenberg hit 331 home runs in his career.
4. Therefore, Chili Davis is a greater power hitter than Greenberg.
This doesn’t seem as ridiculous as Hank Aaron being a lesser power hitter than Russell Branyan. So, perhaps we’re on the right track. It’s possible that some people even consider Davis a greater power hitter than Greenberg. But just for kicks, since I believe that Greenberg is a greater power hitter than Davis, how would one go about proving that Greenberg is a greater power hitter than Davis? One way to go about it would be to have the first premise as the greatest power hitter is the hitter who hits the most home runs in a season. Of course, eventually the argument would also say that Luis Gonzalez is a greater power hitter than Hank Aaron. Or I’ll skip a bunch of hypothetical arguments. And go with this one.
1. The greatest power hitter is the hitter who has the highest amount of home runs hit per 162 games played.
2. Mark McGwire has the highest mark for that at 50 home runs per 162 games played.
3. Therefore, Mark McGwire is the greatest power hitter.
Hank Greenberg beats Chili Davis by this measure but that should be obvious. We’re back where we started. Maybe Mark McGwire is the greatest power hitter. Of course, this ignores a whole lot of context. McGwire was playing in an era where home runs were much more prevalent. He may have had the help of performance enhancing drugs. These factors are not shown in the statistics that we used. It’s fairly difficult to capture context with statistics.
For the most part, by creating an argument focusing on showing one thing, we're ignoring other potential problems with the argument.  We're working backwards from a conclusion.  Instead of letting the facts fall where they may to form a conclusion.  This is obviously a problem but how do we solve it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Abortion issues since the last election: Indiana

Indiana passed SB 371 on February 26, 2013.  Originally, the bill would require an ultrasound before and after having a medication induced abortion.  The bill was later amended to only require an ultrasound prior to having the abortion. 

An additional requirement is that all facilities that provide RU-486 have to become licensed surgical abortion facilities, regardless, of if they actually offer surgical abortions.  This bill will likely close the Planned Parenthood Lafayette Clinic, which is the only facility that offers only medication abortions, as opposed to surgical ones. 

Planned Parenthood, of course, offers services that are not abortions.  These services will ,obviously, not be provided if it closes.  This is politically beautiful and probably toxic to Indiana as a whole.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Last Wednesday night, Tea Party darling Rand Paul filibustered for 13 hours, ostensibly about the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director.  Paul was primarily filibustering the use of the Obama's administration's use of drones.  He was primarily upset about the potential use of drones on American citizens in America.  He did also criticize the use of drones abroad based on "terrorists" past behavior. 

Rand Paul asked Republican whipping boy, attorney general Eric Holder, "does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" Holder replied that the answer to that question is no.

Before the filibuster, on Tuesday March 5, Eric Holder sent a letter to Senator Paul saying that the use of lethal military force is "..entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront."  The two possible extraordinary examples that Holder gave where lethal military force would be alright would be Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Paul, seemingly agreed to this in his filibuster, saying, "nobody questions if planes are flying towards the Twin Towers whether they can be repulsed by the military." But, apparently Paul was questioning this. 

During the Senate judiciary hearing earlier on Wednesday, another Tea Party darling, Ted Cruz questioned Holder if it was constitutional for a drone strike to be ordered on an American "sitting quietly in a cafe."    Holder replied that it was not appropriate.  After a lengthy back and forth, Holder said to translate appropriate to constitutional.  Holder replied that his answer was not a contradiction to the letter he sent Paul.

So, you might be asking why did Paul go on his filibuster if he already had his answer to the questions he was going to bring up in his filibuster?  I imagine he is positioning himself for a presidential run in 2016. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Arkansas is not restricting your right to choose...

The Arkansas House has decided to override Governor Mike Beebe's veto on the "Human Heartbeat Protection Act".  If a heartbeat is detected by ultrasound, then the abortion would be prohibited.  This can be detected as early as five weeks but almost all fetuses have a heartbeat that is detected by 12 weeks.  Republican State Representative Ann Clemer urged lawmakers to override the veto.  She also stated,"I really believe we are eliminating choice at all.  We're just saying after 12 weeks, the choice is over.  You have a choice for the first 12 weeks, that's almost three months." 

Currently, the law in Arkansas prohibits abortions after 20 weeks.  The new law would be in effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns.  The law is going to be challenged by the ACLU and abortion rights groups.  They say that the law flies in the face of the precedent established by Roe v. Wade.  A judge in Idaho ruled a similar 20 week ban was unconstitutional. The ACLU announced that they would not challenge the 20 week ban at this time because they are two separate laws so they would require two lawsuits.  Other states like Arizona and Georgia have had 20 week bans challenged in court.  They are temporarily blocked while the courts sort out the case.

The reason for the 20 week ban is because pro-life advocates claim that fetuses can fill pain at that point.  According to the Politico article linked above, "the leading organization of U.S. obstetricians and gynecologists says there is no legitimate scientific information to support that statement".


Governor Mike Beebe, who vetoed the bill, claimed that the law was unconstitutional and would open the state to lawsuits.  Well, that's exactly what's going to happen.  There will be lawsuits and the state of Arkansas will have to pay legal fees.  The law will likely be struck down as unconstitutional and has very little chance of standing.

I hope it's worth it to make a stand. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013


I was watching Red State and wanted to do a comparison between Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps.  But then I found this quote...
"Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It's no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history." - Pat Robertson.

I'm not really sure what this means. So I'm presenting it without comment.

Friday, March 8, 2013

LGBT survey data

Gallup released a poll about the LGBT community state by state. The question that they asked was "do you personally identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender?"  The national average is about 3.5% according to Gallup.  The median is 3.4%.  The most was 10% in the District of Columbia, followed by Hawai'i at 5.1%.  All of the states were around 2% of the average.  The lowest was North Dakota, by far, at 1.7%.  The lowest besides North Dakota was 2.6% shared by Tennessee, Mississippi, and Montana.  Somewhat surprising by North Dakota's low LGBT population is that South Dakota's LGBT population is 4.4% which is one of the highest ones in the nation.

Here's where it gets interesting.  All of the states, except Souh Dakota, with an LGBT population of 4% have laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientatation or sexual identity.  Gallup has done a poll based on what states are the most conservative and which are the most liberal. 

So, let's take a look at the states listed as the most conservative and most liberal with the percentage of the LGBT population based on the Gallup poll.

Most Conservative
1. Alabama: 2.8%
2. North Dakota: 1.7%
3. Wyoming: 2.9%
4. Mississippi: 2.6%
5. Utah: 2.7%
6. Oklahoma: 3.4%
7. Idaho: 2.7%
8. Louisiana: 3.2%
9. Nebraska: 2.7%
10. Arkansas: 3.5%

Most Liberal
1. District of Columbia: 10%
2. Massachusetts: 4.4%
3. Oregon: 4.9%
4. Vermont: 4.9%
5. Delaware: 3.4%
6. Connecticut:3.4%
7. Washington: 4.0%
8. Rhode Island: 4.5%
9. Hawai'i: 5.1%
10. New York: 3.8%

Based on this, there are a couple competing explanations for why there is variation state by state in LGBT populations.

One theory is that if the state is more liberal or more accepting of the LGBT community, then it is likely that more people would self-identify as a member of this communty.

Another theory is that members of the LGBT community consciously choose to live in states that are more accepting of the LGBT community.  Based on what we know of the LGBT community, which is that they are increasingly young female non-whites which puts them at economic disadvantages to move.  This theory seems less likely.

If we accept the first theory, it does put us in a situation where we might have to assume that the states that are less accepting of the LGBT community have a higher percentage than are willing to self-identify as such.  Is that possible?  Certainly.  While averages and medians are not perfect, I suspect that the states on the lower end of the self-identifying stats have a LGBT percentage much closer to South Dakota than North Dakota.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Abortion issues since the 2012 election: Michigan

I'm going through all of the issues since the 2012 election and seeing what's been going on since then.  I looked at Arkansas last time.  This time, I'll look at Michigan.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Abortion issues since the 2012 election

I'm trying something new where I go through various issues and see what's been happening since the 2012 election.  I'm going through the issues in alphabetical order.  I am using Project Vote Smart's database.

I'm starting out with the abortion issues.

Friday, March 1, 2013

How to use exit polls to mislead: Part 1

While driving to my internship on Friday, a Republican Congressman appeared on National Public Radio to talk about the sequester among other things.