Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Specter the Democrat?

I don't really believe it. If he supports card check, votes for cloture on a very regular basis (no matter his actual vote on whatever bill), and publicly supports Obama and his policies (for the most part) then I'll believe. Unless and until, it is just a ploy to get reelected.

From a bigger picture perspective, I'm not so cynical about this as others. Matthews was saying he's an opportunist, lots of blog comments about him not actually standing for anything but getting elected. I don't see how that's a bad thing though. Politicians are supposed to represent their constituents. Reps their district, Senators their state, and the President his (or her...someday) country. Rep terms are short enough that there are plenty of referendums on their record by their constituents. In the time since Specter was last elected, however, the state of Pennsylvania has changed quite a bit, really to the point that, primary challenge aside, as a Republican it is not possible to represent PA well.

If the GOP did not require the ultimate fealty to party above all that they do, the point would be moot, but Republicans seem to consider disagreeing with the party line on something tantamount to treason. Despite being their nominee for president, McCain is still railed against by much of the right because he thinks torture is bad (Rush had a comment about Specter taking him with to the Dem side). Despite the fact that she is a bigger national punchline than W ever was (you know, before his being president became so tragic), they love Palin.

Flexibility in a politician is often seen as bad (waffling, not having principals, et cetera), but it really isn't, to the extent that a politician changes her views and votes to get reelected, she must be changing them to reflect the changing views of her constituents meaning that she is better representing those who elected her. Having a principled ideology is a fine thing, but not if you are claiming to represent a varied and changing populace, unless you don't mind finding yourself on the outs from them. Principled stands do have a place, and politicians who truly take them are quite courageous. They are also seldom reelected. If one's convictions align with the voters it doesn't take strong principals or courage to state them. If they don't align, he doesn't get elected.

I do not like closed primaries (as exist in PA) because they throw a wrench in the works. In the general election, the voters may not have their choice of politicians, because one party or the other may decide to nominate the more polarizing, divisive candidate. Primaries should be about each party sending the candidate that has the best chance to win the general. But to really do that, primaries should all be caucus type. Short of that, I like the notion of a general election as a choice between all candidates of any party. If someone gets 50%, they win, if not, top 2 go to a run-off. This gives everyone a say on every candidate. The big parties would fight like hell to keep this from happening expressly because 3 Dems, 4 Repubs could all split the vote so that the 1 Liberatarian and 1 Green candidate go to the runoff. Of course, that result is another reason I would like this.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

No more Pontiac?

I'm not sure I understand why, of all the GM brands in existence, they decide to kill off the one with the most youth appeal. The Vibe (which is a Matrix), G#, and Solstice are good cars. The real problem seems to be that the division is less profitable because it is SUV and truck light, but once the economy recovers, gas prices are going to jump again, and those SUVs and trucks will once again see plummeting sales. GM's new motto should be: "Still as short sighted as ever."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Family Responsibilities Discrimination

Think Progress's Matthew Yglesias has this post about, well, the title. There are a whole host of issues I have on the subject, which boils down to: women are paid less than men. So long as the phrase goes: "equal pay for equal work" I have no problem with it. In fact I am a huge fan of that notion. People who take more time off work for family issues (children, ailing parents, spouse, whatever) are NOT DOING EQUAL WORK. Now, that sounds mean, but to ask a company to pay two people the same amount when one is doing less work, is not payment equality, and it does not matter the gender, or age, or anything else that may be different between the two.

The trouble with family responsibilities discrimination is that it is a perfectly legitimate form of discrimination: paying someone who works less, less. Now, this does not mean that it is employed in a fair manner, but that is a much more complex issue as year over year percent increases compound, and many industries/companies don't use a linear scale anyway.

I appreciate that men can't get pregnant and so this is inherently unfair. But neither is it fair to compensate two people the same when one does more work. I am genuinely torn by the whole thing. Unlike some of my peers, I have no problem with, a university hiring a woman over an equally qualified man because of her gender. I don't really even have a problem if she is less quantitatively qualified, as measurable differences (# papers, impact factor of the journals, etc.) between two applicants for tenure-track positions are generally a crap method for hiring anyway, and basing it on gender is at least non-random. On the other hand, if it is a known policy to hire women over men (who are least equally qualified) then that places an excessive burden on those women to produce, and getting pregnant does have a tendency to be viewed as counter productive.

Again, the issue is very complicated.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grouchy Old Men Are Hilarious

There is a conservative op-ed columnist at the Wash Post named George Will who has a severe case of grumpy old man syndrome. He spends the whole of this column complaining about people wearing jeans. Seriously. Laugh-out-loud funny waste of newspaper space.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Problem with Tax Polls

A great example of a meaningless poll is presented by Gallup and it regards the views of Americans regarding income taxes (link). The phenomenal amount of complexity associated with the issue combined with the simplicity of the given question means the results are completely without value.

The first, and most obvious problem, is that people don't generally like being taxed. So there is an inherent predisposition to say that any taxes are too high, that people can appreciate taxes as necessary means that some fraction will overcome that impulse and say that they are appropriate or even low. Now we get to venture into guessing territory: I would guess that those who say their tax levels are appropriate or low do not have serious money problems. I would guess further that individuals who are more giving would similarly say that their taxes are appropriate or low.

The second problem, I see as much bigger: taxes affect people in different income brackets differently. We have a somewhat progressive tax scheme (on the federal level--state level goes from progressive to flat to regressive). This means people who make more are taxed higher. They are also less likely to get some of the more obvious benefits of taxes (like welfare) and so they may be more inclined to see their taxes as too high. Lower income individuals and families pay a smaller percentage in taxes but it is a much larger fraction of what would be their "disposable" income. They may or may not see the things that result from taxes as benefiting them directly, but either way, taking $1000 from someone making $20k is a much more significant tax than is $20k from someone making $100k, so they may be inclined to say that their taxes are too high.

Moreover, what I feel about my personal taxes may be much different than how I feel about taxes as a whole. The wealthy or the poor may think their taxes are too high, but that overall taxes are too low. This brings about another possibility: do people base how they feel about their own taxes on how they view the tax code as a whole? Would a system that a large majority felt was fair result in a large majority feeling that they were taxed fairly, or would the personal outweigh the group and result in people saying their own taxes were too high even though they thought the system was fair?

Now I'm only scratching the surface here, but suffice to say: The poll linked above is absolutely without any real value.

On a personal note: I don't have any problem with my federal taxes (now that I bought a house they may even be too low), but I will make sure to get the full refund next year as I did this year. Also, I do not like the flat tax used by either the state of PA or the townships.