Thursday, December 20, 2012

This is Tricky

So if a [chain] restaurant messes with tips in such a way as to pay more people the $2.13 minimum for tipped staff, it is evil and wrong, but if a coop does it, that's just fine and they are good?!?

It seems to me that they could just pay all staff minimum wage, still accept tips and then split those up (along with some other profit share).  I mean, it isn't illegal for a (full) minimum wage employee to also get tips.  Just look at coffee shops, or Oregon/California/anywhere else where the state has mandated everyone gets at least the state minimum wage.  Is it illegal for them to pool the tips and divide it among all if they are not using that as a loophole to pay employees less? 

I'm sure that there is more to the laws than that of which I am aware, but it seems to me that there is a simple solution here, and no-one should be bitching/cheering for low paid employees.

Odd, Liberal Policy Makes the Deficit Smaller

Oh, and the economy bigger...

I only selected the most liberal positions [available] and got a huge boost in the economy and a budget surplus in 3 years.  Weird.  Hell, even if I keep the defense spending where it is I get surpluses. 

Yes, there are conservative positions in there too, but they don't boost the economy or cut the deficit by as much, and they hurt the poor while benefiting the rich (including defense contractors).

Note: letting all the Bush tax cuts expire--though keeping the wage tax cut and all the stimulus spending, incl. tax cuts--has a large effect.  I also got rid of all the allowed tax deductions, raised the gas tax, implemented carbon tax, added a public option, sped up the health care excise tax, and raised the SS taxes as much as it allowed.  I ignored the 15% tax expenditure thing, mostly because I ended the other deductions, and want to encourage the rich to donate to charity at higher levels.

On the other hand, if you select all the conservative options, the economy recovers more slowly, and you are still running deficits at the end of the timeline (2021). 

The biggest "conservative" item is probably the VAT, which is only conservative, in that it is a regressive tax.  Some liberals kind of like VATs because they are more behind the scenes and people have notions (delusions) that they can be increased and made more progressive more simply than income taxes.  Without the VAT, however, the "conservative" options lead to higher deficits than current law (which is something that all smart people already know).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Asked and Answered:

Another horrible gun tragedy and representative CNN commenter asks:
If this person didn't have a gun you honestly believe he wouldn't have found a way to hurt someone?
Ok, first, obviously, this question is stupid on it's face as "hurt someone" is somehow supposed to be as bad as "killing many people including many children"?  How much of a heartless ass do you have to be to even posit that?  Don't answer.  Instead let's rephrase:
If this person didn't have a gun you honestly believe he wouldn't have found a way to [kill a bunch of people including lots of children]?
This one is easy: "Yes, yes I do."  Okay, are there really people out there who are so stupid to believe that if this person had shown up with a knife that the results would have been the same?!?

Then there are the people who believe arming the teacher(s) would fix this, which assumes 1) that the teachers would all think bringing a loaded gun into a classroom was a good idea and 2) that in such a situation having civilians with handguns shooting also would somehow make things better.

Gun advocates are simply insane/idiotic/evil/all-of-the-above. 

Hear Hear!

I support solar panels for everyone

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yea But Not Just That

Atrios' answer to Paul Waldman's question is correct, but there is actually a meaningful economic point to being more concerned about marginal rates than just total tax bill.  The reasoning is incentives, and the idea is sound enough, but it is just really stupid to apply it to the US and our current tax code.

Basically, if someone pulling in $500k/year and paying $130k in taxes works a bit harder, and makes an extra $50k, then the extra taxes are (essentially) that times their marginal rate and that's it.  If you adjust things so that their taxes go up to $200k, but their marginal rate remains exactly the same, then their incentive to work harder and make more is unchanged.  If, on the other hand, you keep the loopholes, but increase the marginal rates to offset the same difference, now, the incentive to working and earning more has been reduced (possibly by a lot).

The problem with this argument in the US is that the incentives are already very backwards.  As much as the federal income tax is progressive, most state taxes are flat to regressive, same with city, and wage taxes are--by virtue of SS not applying to anything over $106k--regressive.  On top of that many social insurance programs provide diminishing benefits as income increases, which sets up some points where the effective marginal tax rate exceeds 100%, and that is all at lower incomes.  The result of all this is that marginal effective rate is pretty flat (~40%) for everyone except the very poor (where effective marginal rates are near 100%) and the very wealthy (where it is 15%).

An extreme show of the negative incentives at low income is in the chart below, where a single mom with $29k in income has to more than double that to regain the same standard of living.

I would like to note that the presentation that comes from (PA sec of public welfare) is, despite this very nice graph, not really good.  The problem with our tax and transfer programs is that they are very complex, and feature abrupt ends to many benefits.  But this is the case because the better (simple, gradually diminishing benefits that leaves no cliff) solution is not politically viable.

A simple cash transfer program through the tax code would be great, but people have strong objections to giving no-strings-attached money to [poor] people.  So we have to give food stamps (that can't be used to buy clothing/housing) and then a housing program (that doesn't help with health care) and then a special insurance program...  On top of that they have hard cutoffs, because "clearly someone making $x per year doesn't need help with [y]" but since non-heartless, non-assholes want to provide as much help as possible, that assistance is provided right up to the cutoff (also, with something like medicaid, it is really hard to taper it off without making it insanely complex...and without being a total prick). 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mark Bittman Doesn't Understand Farming

Another infuriating article by Mark Bittman.  Ok, yes, herb-, pest-, fung-icides are bad and dangerous and can cause problems myriad.  But organic farmers also use herb-, pest-, fung-icides, just "organic" ones.  These are not as well tested, they are in some cases known to be more toxic than the non-organic versions (I linked this before but am too lazy to find it now), and they have much less regulation attached to them.  Since they tend to be less potent they also must be applied in larger quantities.

So, no, switching from standard to organic doesn't necessarily improve your health prospects, and it may reduce them.  It does reduce your exposure to "chemicals" but we don't know what the trade-off is, and we don't know if it is better or worse.

The sustainable/natural agriculture movement in this country is very frustrating from a scientific point of view.  The hysteria surrounding things like GMOs and conventional farming is damaging to the prospects of sustainable/healthy agriculture.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Housing Recovery

On one side there are vast sums of money to be made in housing.  On the other the time scale is still too long for most investment types, particularly larger scale, so something like buying cheap houses, renting them for a few years, then selling them to realize huge capital gains is a really smart strategy.

I just don't think it will go as well as the bankers think.  If an individual wants to buy and manage 2 or three renal properties themselves, that can work (easier in some cities than others).  If a block of investors wants to buy and manage an apartment complex and/or a neighborhood worth of houses (well concentrated) then that can work.  But if a huge investment group wants to buy and manage dozens to hundreds of homes in disparate locations across the country?  That's a disaster waiting to happen.

The problem is location and distribution of profits.  One person can manage a small number of houses, provided all profits are going back to that one person.  An investment company, however, needs to be profitable while paying someone a salary to manage those houses.  This is normally done in rental markets with volume.  An apartment complex allows a small number of people to manage maybe hundreds of units.  Even accounting for empties this isn't too hard to manage a profit with. 

That same handful of people can't manage houses located hundreds of miles apart in different cites/states.  Also, you can't really cut back on management in such a way that 100 properties have the same total management costs.  So now the cost of management goes up by 10-fold, and it is that much harder to be profitable.  It isn't impossible, and come sale time, could still result in lots of money, but to manage the properties in the meantime probably means an operating loss for the investment company.

"Franchising" out the rental properties may be a solution to prevent/minimize losses without sacrificing management of properties (individuals bid on managing properties and get to take all the income from said properties over a 5 year period...think you can manage an average profit $700/month over 5 years, maybe you'll pay $12k upfront to do so).  This doesn't really do much for upfront investors, however, and so it seems very likely that poor to non-existent management will happen in many cases (I'm pretty sure that tenants being treated horribly is Atrios's fear here).

Friday, December 07, 2012

Revolving Credit Mystery (to me)

I'm sure someone knows, but if someone routinely charges $1500/month on his credit card and pays it off entirely each month, does that count as debt and savings?  I'm sure it all works out in the wash, but I am curious nevertheless.  If someone else charges $500 a month and pays it all off does she somehow get noted as saving* less since she is paying off less "debt" each month?

I guess I really want to know about how the balances work.  I'll be charging more this month than next, but because of that I will pay off more next month than this.  Because the charging and the payment are in different months, do I get noted as running net savings/debt in given months based on that.  If I were to increase spending each month by 0.5% would that show as me constantly increasing my debt load even though I am paying it off every month? 

Also, would I know the answers if I actually read the whole report?

*paying off debt counts as savings

Scientists vs. Non-Scientists

I think that is the biggest problem when it comes to the consistently overly conservative reports on the effects of climate change (global warming).  The IPCC probably does do a very good job of reporting the science, but scientists (due in part to our inherently conservative bent and in part to things like peer review, and the very fuzzy nature of projections) are likely to shy away from more dire positions...at least within journals, and maybe meetings.

Non-scientists, however, simply don't understand scientists.  Scientists want to keep the uncertainty in measurements and predictions as low as possible--or, another way of putting it, to have as high a confidence as possible. But that focus can be problematic when new data doesn't match existing.  There can be an urge to dismiss outlying data, to assume that if something is significantly different than what others have found, it is likely to be wrong.  Prediction in particular is a very difficult area to deal with, especially when those predictions relate to complex systems and long time scales.  Very small changes in initial settings can lead to very large changes in the results. This isn't normally wrong.  Typically, the odds are that if your data is different from all existing data, you messed something up. 

The political particulars of global warming impose another constraint--one that causes a systematic push towards more conservative reporting.  No one wants to get it wrong on the high side and give fodder to the anti-science, anti-gloabal warming crowd (not that they really need anything since they tend to make up crap even without).  (Also, no one wants to be chicken little or the boy who cried wolf.) 

So things are worse than most predictions.  Al Gore was right, but he's fat and claimed he invented the internet so no one should listen to him.  On the other hand the world may end in a couple weeks here when the long count runs out and we won't have to worry about the inevitable humanitarian crisis to come after all.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Coins and Bills

In the face of the manufactured crisis that is the austerity bomb, it looks like at least a few people are hoping to convince Congress to switch our $1 cash form from a bill to a coin.  I am wholly in support, of course (I also think we should add a $2 coin to the mix, the combination would mean this article is crap, as seigniorage would be much greater, and usage of the $2 would be likely higher than the $1).

Really, though, if someone wants to argue for making/saving money with the mint the most obvious solution is to stop minting the penny, and even more so, the nickel.  Both of those cost more to make than the face value.  If we stopped making them we would save money.

There are weak, but understandable arguments for keeping the $1 bill--I disagree with them but they exist--the arguments against killing the penny on the other hand (or the nickel, but you hear more about ending the penny) are some combination of paranoid, and/or stupid (I was going to add selfish, but those are pretty much also stupid).

Friday, November 30, 2012

I Think Most Actual Smart People Know This

Rich people are not really the best and brightest by a long-shot.  Particularly when their wealth is related to high finance.  Yes, they are well educated (going to Harvard is more qualification to get into that circle of "elites" than actually knowing/understanding anything), and yes, many are smart at some level.  But they are not nearly as smart as many people (particularly themselves and beltway media) give them credit for.  I think David Atkins take on them is pretty on the money:
They're good at making deals. They know the right people. They have a good knack for social intelligence and little compunction about skimming a lot of money off the top of the labor of others.
That combined with a good dollop of luck and/or a phenomenal amount of greed is about it.

Please note that while it is possible to be ridiculously wealthy without being astonishingly greedy, it is not very common.  In particular any wealthy individual who is complaining about taxes/the deficit/socialism or who supported Romney is definitely greedy.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Video Gaming

The thing about console gaming for me isn't related to overall consoles and sales, but the rush out for the latest thing.  If the number of titles available on the PS3 was limited, then there would be a decent chance that I would shell out $60 for the latest game.  It isn't, though, and there are plenty of 1-2 yr old titles available new for $20, and lots, even fairly recent ones, available used for under $15. 

Part of it is I'm cheap, and part is that I'm not spending 80 hrs a week playing games so I can't exactly clear 1-10 games/week, but there are way more titles available right now than I will ever be able to play.  Being a year behind the curve doesn't really phase me.

Really?!?

I'm not sure I can stress how terrifying this piece is:
But it wasn't until the polls closed that concern turned into alarm. They expected North Carolina to be called early. It wasn't. They expected Pennsylvania to be up in the air all night; it went early for the President.

After Ohio went for Mr. Obama, it was over, but senior advisers say no one could process it.

"We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory," said one senior adviser. "I don't think there was one person who saw this coming."

They just couldn't believe they had been so wrong...

...But then came Colorado for the president and Florida also was looking tougher than anyone had imagined...

...Romney was stoic as he talked to the president, an aide said, but his wife Ann cried. Running mate Paul Ryan seemed genuinely shocked, the adviser said. Ryan's wife Janna also was shaken and cried softly.

"There's nothing worse than when you think you're going to win, and you don't," said another adviser. "It was like a sucker punch."

Their emotion was visible on their faces when they walked on stage after Romney finished his remarks, which Romney had hastily composed, knowing he had to say something.

Both wives looked stricken, and Ryan himself seemed grim. They all were thrust on that stage without understanding what had just happened.

"He was shellshocked," one adviser said of Romney.
They had no reason whatsoever to be surprised by this, even if they were confident in victory.  To be shocked by the defeat they must have been living in the reality impaired world of Fox News.  While I expect that of a sizable fraction of those who vote for Republicans, I had always just assumed that the party higher-ups were aware that that was a warped, fact deprived world.  That Romney and numbers man Ryan would be so sure of victory that this left them shell shocked indicates a frightening separation from reality for those at the top of the GOP.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Price "Gouging"

Further the gas line discussion earlier, I have seen a few people saying that restrictions on "price gouging" are part of the problem in Jersey.  The best pro-gouging (overall) piece I've seen is probably Yglesias', the only sort of detailed anti- bit I've seen so far was on Digby's blog. I don't really completely agree with either.

While my policy preferences would change things, right now, gasoline is a necessity for a large swath of this country, a luxury for a subset and totally useless for yet a third group.  Letting the market dictate prices benefits the luxury segment at the expense of the high need.  Restrictions in price changes that lead to huge lines disadvantage both, but, again, this falls more heavily on those that need gas than the others.  Straight up rationing works, but maybe not the easiest thing to implement, particularly in a crisis, and it may not prevent the lines anyway.

So what's the solution in these cases?  Some form of hybrid rationing would probably be best.  Everyone can get up to maybe 2 gallons at the normal price, then anything over is $$$.  The total volume locked in a the low price must be small enough to prevent lines but high enough to let people get somewhere.

Update: Really good read on this subject from Mark Thoma.

Statistics

People don't understand them.  The crap coming out against Nate Silver is mostly just people trying to change the narrative, but there is some element of it (and probably a large fraction among those who believe it) that is just not understanding what polling is or how statistics work.

A 76% (or, now an 86%) chance for an Obama victory actually indicates a pretty close election, not a landslide or a sure thing by any stretch.  If Obama had a 5% lead nationally his odds of winning would likely be well over 95% at this close date.  One day away and less than 90% indicates, to me, that the race is very close.  Just because the safer bet is with Obama doesn't mean it's not still a gamble.

Friday, November 02, 2012

In a Nutshel

This is my frustration:
We don't have a functioning federal system. We have one group half composed of progressives and half of centrists, up against an obstructionist group of lying, moronic connivers who believe in confidence fairies, tax cuts that magically pay for themselves, self-aware uteri, and an earth that is 6,000 years old. It's not exactly a surprise that they would scuttle an inconvenient economic report.
I'm not sure I believe Democrats are half progressives--maybe from a person standpoint, but the policy they have pushed/enacted has been 100% centrist.  Or as Venn Diagram:

Clinton was kind of on the right wing of the Democratic party when he was first elected.  Though to me, the really scary thing is that Regan was on the right wing of the Republican party when he won in 1980.

The lunatic left ("9/11 was an inside job") and the radical right are about equally bonkers, though the radical right is much larger and pretty much the center of the Republican party whereas the lunatic left is completely ignored by the Democratic party.  Bat-shit insane doesn't really exist on a right left continuum but it has found a home among Republicans. 

Moderates and centrists in real policy terms are the defining element of the Democratic party.  Important to note for this group, though, is that the self-proclaimed variant that is found largely among the pundit class are largely idiots whose stated policy preferences are almost exactly Obama's stated positions, but who--again, because they are idiots--don't want to admit or even think that so they pretend that Obama is actually liberal and that Romney2012 is actually the same as Romney2008.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Gas Lines

The entire state of NJ is less than 2 hrs from me, and less than 1 hr from an open gas station without a mile long line.  So why are people waiting 2 hrs in miles long gas lines? (Yes, I realize that 2 hrs to me then 2 hrs back is 4 hrs, but there are closer stations that are open without ridiculines, probably some in Western Jersey.) 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sandy


Lots of wind so trees down (image is ~3 blocks from me).  Less rain than I expected (dry basement is nice, particularly when there would not have been power to pump it out).  Power out for 27 hrs.  Frozen foods now safe. 

And this leads me to this article by Kevin Drum, and this one (that I don't agree with quite as much) by George Lakoff.

Yes, hurricanes like Sandy are more likely and more violent as a result of global warming, and yes there is a systemic causation similar to but weaker than smoking and lung cancer (i.e. you can get lung cancer without ever having smoked or even been exposed to smokers, but it is much less likely).  Yet, we are not going to do anything about it because politics...
If you were teaching a graduate seminar in public policy and challenged your students to come up with the most difficult possible problem to solve, they'd come up with something very much like climate change. It's slow-acting. It's essentially invisible. It's expensive to address. It has a huge number of very rich special interests arrayed against doing anything about it. It requires international action that pits rich countries against poor ones. And it has a lot of momentum: you have to take action now, before its effects are serious, because today's greenhouse gases will cause climate change tomorrow no matter what we do in thirty years.
It's depressing, but this will keep happening, and it will get worse, and rather than act to slow or stop it, we will just have to deal.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cost of College

This post and this followup by John Holbo are pretty depressing reads.  They did make me think a bit about the cost of college and where it [maybe] comes from. 

While I have mostly felt that a sizable portion of the increase in college cost was due to [state] governments cutting or at least not increasing their funding, there is a real cost associated with adding departments/schools/courses and a smaller one with adding and improving other living aspects (the notorious climbing walls). 

John is very pessimistic about the possibility that state funding will ever come back.  I am not really optimistic on that front, but I am somewhat less pessimistic.

Something that wasn't really mentioned and that I do see happening at small levels now is private sponsorship of university.  The current extreme is well represented by Nike's involvement with the University of Oregon, and smaller scale has been happening for quite a while (I'd guess that most people who attended university in the past 20 years found either Coke or Pepsi products in the cafeteria but not both).

I don't really think that that is a particularly good deal either, but as it gets more expensive, it becomes more obvious a route for companies to get good employees.  Granted in our depressed economy this incentive is far less since there are more job seekers than positions, but in times of full employment it makes sense for companies to offer to pay for school in exchange for 5 years at a set salary after graduation.  More likely, as it is more flexible, would be companies offering to pay student loan payments in addition to stated salaries up to a certain amount per year (or to match payments as with 401k's).

Hell, if I were an employer I would consider buying out the student loan entirely to offer a lower interest rate for repayment (though this could be an issue for employees that leave or are laid off).  My guess is that our student loan and tax systems are sufficiently screwed up that a savvy employer could actually profit from this if managed correctly.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

So Lots of Inequality is Bad, But What About a Little?

At some level it seems largely self-evident that large inequality (and for that matter widening inequality) is bad for the broader economy.  But that doesn't mean that no inequality is good.  It seems like there should be an optimum, though I've no idea where it would be or whether it would correlate to any other factors.

I'm pretty liberal in a lot of ways, but if we lived in a society where everyone was perfectly equal (like in The Dispossessed) then we would have little incentive for anyone to do their best.  I don't begrudge success, I just don't think that anyone can possibly be worth $1 billion while others starve.

As I see it the solution is pretty simple: much more progressive taxation, especially for very high income individuals, combined with more generous social insurance programs that improve the baseline living conditions for the poorest among us.  People that can't or simply don't want to work shouldn't own mansions but they shouldn't starve on the streets either.

We are wealthy enough as a nation that we should be able to provide shelter with basic amenities, food, clothing, (public) transportation, and medical care to everyone.  A little work can afford a few low end luxuries (TV, alcohol, PS3, nicer furniture, car), and major innovation/development would still allow someone to buy a redicu-house and a few Ferrari/Hummers.

Parsing Reasons

Should a progressive vote for Obama?  Until the choice of Paul Ryan the answer was, at best, "maybe".  There were very good reasons to vote for and to not vote for (there were and are no good reasons for any human being to vote for Romney...well, maybe family).  Still there is some pretty bad thinking in this realm, and I've seen lots of "reasons" that were not.  This comes from an email and was written (afaik) by Paul and/or Karen Barton.
Supreme Court
If Mitt Romney becomes President, he will be choosing the next one, two or three Supreme Court Justices.  Appointing Supreme Court Justices may be the single most significant action any President takes.  It profoundly steers law, public policy and culture for perpetuity.  If progressive voters don’t go to the polls to re-elect President Obama they might find themselves losing rights and privileges that they have taken for granted their entire lives.
The most compelling reason is the supreme court.  Those are lifetime nominations and the most lasting way that a president affects policy in the United States.
Congress
A Romney victory would likely bring with it a large GOP majority in the House and quite possibly a Republican Senate as well, and hence a tsunami of regressive legislation.
This is bad cause and effect.  This is only a true statement if everyone who votes for Democrats down ballot also votes for Obama and Romney wins.  If Romney wins because progressives do not vote for Obama, but they do vote down ballot, then the statement no longer holds. 
Health Care/Affordable Care Act
Democrats, under President Obama, believe health care is a right and want all Americans to be covered by health insurance.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not achieve that goal but it moves the ball a lot closer to the goal line than it was before the ACA was enacted.  Universal coverage is not a goal for Republicans.  Mitt Romney has vowed to begin dismantling the ACA as one of his first actions as President.  This would mean the return of the “donut hole,” the loss of coverage for adult children up to the age of 26 and those with pre-existing or high risk conditions, the loss of free preventive exams, the loss of contraception with no co-pay and the reinstatement of lifetime and annual limits on coverage.
Meh.  It was also Romney's fucking health care bill.  Not sure if he'll really walk it back, especially since he keeps pointing to things he would keep, but if he does: it will be a Republican plan taken down.
Medicare
President Obama’s proposed Medicare savings are achieved through payment reductions to vendors, service delivery innovations and increased efforts to reduce fraud, waste and abuse.  There will be no reduction in benefits to seniors under his plan and the money saved will be turned back into the health insurance system, delaying insolvency and extending the fiscal security of Medicare for eight years.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agrees that the ACA actually reduces the deficit.
Mitt Romney will raise the eligibility age to 67 and turn Medicare into a voucher system...The money saved from current levels of Medicare spending under the Romney plan would be spent on tax cuts for the rich.
Meh.  Again, Romney isn't proposing anything that will take effect in his administration.  Funny thing about congress: just because they pass a law today doesn't mean it will still be the law tomorrow.
Medicaid
Mitt Romney would eliminate the existing matching-grant financing structure of Medicaid and would instead give each state a predetermined block grant.  States would be forced to reduce their spending and lower the size of their Medicaid programs by such measures as cutting payment rates for doctors, hospitals, or nursing homes; reducing the scope of benefits covered; or limiting eligibility. 
An Urban Institute analysis of the Ryan budget proposal from last year found block grants would lead states to drop between 14 million and 27 million people from Medicaid by 2021 and cut reimbursements to health care providers by 31%.
Medicaid is issue 2 where I see a meaningful difference.  Maybe not as lasting, and easier to undo, but it will hurt people in the meantime.
Social Security
Mitt Romney’s Social Security plan would, by 2032, raise the normal retirement age from 67 to 70, and adopt “progressive price indexing” which would reduce the future growth rate of benefits for the top 60 percent of earners. (Their initial retirement benefits would partly reflect inflation but not overall wage growth during their careers.)  Wealthy retirees would get fewer benefits.  Vice-President Biden has pledged, “Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security.”
Right now, I trust neither party to maintain SS, Biden's comment notwithstanding.  It was part of the shitty "Grand Bargain" that Obama spent a fucking year distracted by and pushing for. 
LGBT Rights
President Obama believes in a future where no one is denied rights because of who they are or whom they love.   He supports LGBT rights including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and marriage equality and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOM).  Mitt Romney opposes ENDA and will actively push for a constitutional amendment to take away the rights of states to voluntarily extend marriage equality to same-sex couples. The GOP platform calls for a ban on marriage equality nationwide.
I think this is a meaningful difference, but without substance.  Society has become much more accepting of LGBT people and rights in the past decade and the trend seems to be accelerating.  If the GOP tried to do this it would only hasten their demise.  That said, it could certainly make a very large difference to individuals.
Immigration
President Obama supports creating a legal immigration system that reflects American values and diverse needs.  In contrast to Mitt Romney who wants undocumented immigrants to “self-deport,” the Obama administration has developed a program of deferred action for childhood arrivals, a discretionary determination to defer removal action of an individual as an act of prosecutorial discretion so that children of undocumented immigrants can work, attend school or serve in the US military without fear of deportation.  Mitt Romney has stated he would repeal the Dream Act  --  which President Obama supports  --  should it pass and the GOP platform states that federal funding should be denied to universities that provide instate tuition rates to illegal aliens.
Similar to LGBT rights, but not as clear cut.  The GOP has in the past (their last president) supported pretty good comprehensive immigration reform: better than anything I've heard from Obama, who has bragged about deporting more illegal immigrants than his predecessor.
Equal Pay for Women
President Obama supports women’s rights to equal pay and signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as one his first acts as President.  It took Mitt Romney days to say he would not repeal the Act.

Reproductive Justice
Unlike Mitt Romney who as recently as the Fall of 2011 expressed support for legislation which would declare a fertilized egg a person and vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, President Obama supports a woman’s right to reproductive freedom including access to safe and legal abortions and birth control.  To this end, the ACA includes a provision now in effect that contraception be covered by health insurance without co-pay.  This year's GOP platform calls for a federal ban on abortion without an exception for rape or incest, supports a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorses legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.  The Romney campaign website states that “the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Ok, women's rights are the next biggest reason to vote Obama (between Supreme Court and Medicaid)
Education
Obama recognizes the importance of education in assuring individuals are self-sufficient and productive.  President Obama wants to improve ALL the schools, especially the lowest-achieving.  The center piece of Mitt Romney’s education policy is school choice.  He wants to take existing funds which are given without conditions to the states and use them to encourage vouchers, charter schools, and the use of online learning technology, and use federal incentives to have high-stakes tests be a major determinant for the allocation of funds.
Education is a major issue and Democrats really aren't doing much better there than Republicans at the federal level.  The single best thing that could be done is massive, temporary increase in aid to states so that they can hire back some of the fired teachers.  Neither party is really advocating that, and both are talking reforms that are questionable at best.
Home Foreclosures
President Obama has designed programs to assist homeowners whose houses are in danger of foreclosure.  Mitt Romney would not act to prevent foreclosures and he advocates letting housing “hit the bottom.”
...Um, no, he didn't.  Sorry but HAMP was useless and the gift to banks who illegally foreclosed in the one settlement was just insane.  Obama has done effectively zero, Romney just admits he wants to do zero.
Environment
President Obama supports regulations to protect our air, water and food.  Mitt Romney advocates removing many of the existing protections.  He has stated “The idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us." He would seek to have Congress amend the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to assure that costs are taken into account and that, when regulations are really necessary because of “compelling human health reasons,” industry is given an extensive lead time to come into compliance so that corporate interests are not sacrificed at the altar of human health.

Mitt Romney’s website does not contain the words “environment,” “global warming” or “climate change” and the biggest laugh line of his nomination acceptance speech mocked President Obama’s promise to address the negative effects of climate change.
There has been more advancement in oil drilling under Obama than there was under Bush.  Toss in fracking, and a continued use of the oxymoronic phrase "clean coal" and we currently have a regressive president on the environment.  Romney may be worse, but, frankly, that would be a challenge. Special note: the GOP denial of fact here is insane, so minor point to Obama, but he really hasn't done or advocated for anything that gives him marks here.
Unions
President Obama has fought hard and weighed in firmly in favor of unions.  He championed the Employee Free Choice Act and secured a more politically sympathetic National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  He issued an executive order that federal agencies should consider requiring union-friendly Project Labor Agreements and he weighed in during the Wisconsin labor standoff in support of collective bargaining rights.  Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has stated he would, mostly via executive order, on Day One, end preference for unionized companies in government contracting; end Project Labor Agreements; fight to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act; oppose the Employee Free Choice Act; fight for right-to-work laws; undercut the ability of the NLRB to do its job; and prevent unions from being able to spend member dues on political activity without the express approval of the individual members.
Two words: "card check".  In a neutral world Obama gets a C- for this, as a Democrat he deserves an F.  Yea, Romney would be worse, but it isn't like unions have been doing great under Obama.
Finance Reform/Wall Street
President Obama supports regulations to protect consumers from abuse by financial institutions as evidenced by passage of the Dodd-Frank Act which included the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Mitt Romney advocates the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act and its replacement with a “streamlined, modern regulatory framework” that “creates a simple, predictable, and efficient regulatory system.”  No details are provided on what this “modern regulatory framework” would look like or how he could get such a system through the new Congress.
Seriously?  No.  The extent to which Obama's administration has been captured by Wall Street is offensive. Romney would probably be worse, but after Obama that is almost not possible.
Campaign
President Obama supports a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, the DISCLOSE act which would force full disclosure of all funding intended to influence our elections, and legislation prohibiting the bundling of campaign contributions from lobbyists.  While Mitt Romney, legendary in his support of expansive corporate power, originally stated Citizens United was "the right decision," he later stated that laws limiting political donations are too restrictive.  He prefers supporters contribute directly to campaigns rather than to super PACs that do not always act as the candidates wish.
Meh.  Roll this one into Supreme Court and toss it.  We are not going to get any new amendments under either and there is zero chance of major restructuring to campaign finance. 
Social Safety Network
Mitt Romney rants against a “culture of dependency” or an “entitlement society” and advocates huge cuts in social programs such as heating/cooling assistance, WIC, employment training, day care and mental health services in order to maintain or bolster the military and give tax breaks to the “job creators.”  The GOP program has been referred to as Social Darwinism, a model which was rejected in the 20th century: reward the rich, penalize the poor and let everyone else fend for themselves.  The inevitable excesses of free-market greed are freed from regulation in their plan.

President Obama believes that a just society cares for children, the sick and the disabled, feeds the hungry, and shelters the homeless.  He rejects the notion that each of us is on our own in a competitive contest for survival.  He supports the social safety network which includes such protections as Unemployment Insurance and Food Stamps.

President Obama has learned from the tragic consequences of the draconian reductions in spending that we have seen in Europe and rejects that path.  He believes, as do Paul Krugman, Robert Reich and other Keynesian economists, that if we stimulate the economy through aid to the states and infrastructure spending, the debt will take care of itself.  Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics; the CBO; the Center of Economic and Policy Research; and the Economic Policy Institute believe that every dollar spent on such benefits as Unemployment Insurance and Food Stamps generates more than a dollar in near-term GDP because people in need spend these grants immediately.

For example, every dollar spent on unemployment benefits generates an estimated $1.63 in near-term GDP.   Boosting food stamp payments by $1 increases GDP by $1.73.
Yea but...when he had the chance to do right here, he gave us a stimulus with 40% tax cuts.
Taxes
Among the series of tax changes Mitt Romney has proposed are: reducing individual income tax rates across the board by 20 percent, maintaining the Bush administration-era tax rate of 15 percent on investment income from dividends and capital gains (and eliminating this tax entirely for those with annual incomes less than $200,000), cutting the top tax rate on corporations from 35 percent to 25 percent, and eliminating the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax.  Under the Ryan budget Mitt Romney would pay less than 1% on his income.

Unlike the examples above in which social safety net dollars spent generate increases in GDP,  the tax cuts Mitt Romney proposes generate decreases in near-term GDP.  Making the Bush tax cuts permanent as he proposes generates only $0.31 in near-term GDP,  cutting the corporate tax rate generates only $0.30 and making dividend and capital gains tax cuts permanent generates only $0.38.  Non-partisan analyses of Romney’s tax plan have estimated that it could add more than $3 trillion to the federal deficit, and would favor the highest-earning Americans, possibly raising annual taxes on middle-class earners by as much as $2,000.

In keeping with his understanding that a budget is a moral document, President Obama believes that the deficit is best addressed by reasonable progressive taxation and responsible economic stimulus.  In addition to eliminating the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000, calling on the wealthiest Americans to pay more in taxes, President Obama’s plan would lower the nation’s corporate tax rate to 28 percent while at the same time boosting overall revenue from corporate taxation by banning numerous deductions and loopholes that save companies tens of billions of dollars a year on their tax bills.
Tax cuts for rich people is the only thing Republicans truly believe.  Unfortunately Obama's counter is weak and doesn't leave him in any position to compromise.  I don't think it is so terrible to suggest raising taxes even on people making only $100k/yr (note: snark), but I'm not nearly as conservative as Obama.
Energy
Mitt Romney's energy plan is a rehash of the top priorities of the Big Oil and Big Coal representatives who recently joined him at a fundraiser: the end of numerous safeguards for public health, the gutting of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the surrender of our public lands and offshore areas to drilling and mining, and the destruction of tens of thousands of American clean energy jobs.

The Obama Administration has launched the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight in U.S. history to ensure that our nation can safely and responsibly expand development of offshore energy resources.  President Obama supports more efficient cars, trucks, homes, factories and other buildings. The Obama administration has just announced a new fuel efficiency standard of 54.5 MPG for new vehicles sold in 2025.  These new standards will result in 570,000 new jobs, reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day, save $1.7 trillion at the pump, and reduce carbon pollution by more than 6 billion metric tons, a 10% drop.  Under President Obama’s leadership greenhouse gas emissions are down to their lowest level in 20 years. We're using less oil; U.S. wind power has doubled over the last four years; and solar has grown by a factor of five.
Ok, fuck you, and see above on the environment. 
The Arts
In a recent interview in Politico, Mitt Romney stated his intention to cut all federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, PBS and NPR.  While President Obama has decreased allocations for the principal cultural agencies in recent budgets in a recession-inspired attempt to reduce overall expenses, he has included a modest increase in the allocations for the NEA, NEH and other cultural organizations in his 2013 budget.  There is a clear impetus to use innovative programming and educational efforts to achieve Obama administration goals in this area.
Ok, I'll bite...no, I won't.  I strongly believe in NEA and think that we should have public television and radio, and there is a meaningful difference, but it is a small big picture issue (though, again, large to some individuals).

All these points also ignore Obama's reprehensible kill-random-people-with-drones-then-just-label-all-the-males-"enemy combatants"-because-we-said-so program.  For any liberal the "wars" on terror and drugs provide plenty of reasons not to vote for this president (and Romney would be exactly the same).

The selection of Ryan pushed things a bit over the edge for me on a combination of taxes, regulation and the roll of government in the lives of people, but the fact remains that Obama has been really bad on all those issues, and until the selection of Ryan, Romney had been pretty much at the exact same point as Obama.  Not better, but not really much worse either. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Post That Could Only Have Been Written by a Harvard Grad

While I understand and follow everything Dylan says in this piece I'm pretty sure that it takes a pretty pretentious ass to come to his conclusion.  The data out there says that with the exception of Harvard and to a much lesser extent Yale and a handful of top top tier universities, where you go to college (provided you graduate) makes approximately zero difference in your earning potential, and there is no fucking way that all those people who take advantage of the scholarship would have ended up at Harvard instead.

Maybe the people who took the scholarship were less enthused about college than those who did not.  Maybe those who took the scholarship were more likely to be in the bottom part of that top 25% and had fewer scholarship options outside of the Massachusetts one, and so didn't actually fare worse than if they hadn't taken it.  Maybe they are happier as a result (I know student loan debt pisses me off).

It's just a really bad bit of writing.  There are plenty of real reasons that Romney would be a horrible president, you don't need to try and twist crap like this around to use against him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pet Peeve

I do not understand hotel in room entertainment decisions.  Hotel rooms have TV's, most now days are the flat screen models that come (standard) with HDMI inputs.  I have a small laptop computer with an HDMI jack.  I should be able to plug that into the TV, switch the input over, and watch my computer on the TV to play a game or stream Netflix or just browse the web from bed.  But often this is not possible because hotels have either blocked access to the ports or restricted the ability for the TV input to be switched over to them.

If many/most of the TV's made today lacked HDMI ports then this could be seen as saving them money, but that isn't the case.  These are specially setup TV's just for the hotels that are deliberately preventing me from using them in some way that makes them useful to me: basically the hotel is going out of its way to provide a worse service/product.  If the hotel provided some alternative that they charged for that might make sense, but they don't.  My computer entertainment options are not available through the hotel, so they are not making things worse to get a bit more money out of me, they are just making things worse. 

Mini-fridges that are not useful because they are stocked with crap I won't buy, and internet access that costs way too much are at least somewhat different.  These piss me off too, but at least there is a "hotel can get some money from this" side to it.  Just because I am not going to take a $7 beer out of that doesn't mean someone else won't. 

And of course, the more the hotel room costs the more likely it is you have to put up with this crap.  Super 8's are not the height of, well, anything, but free internet, free breakfast (mediocre, but free), useful fridge (when they have one, maybe, it's been a while), accessible TV's (again, maybe not anymore), and the ability to stay there with my dog make them a whole lot more customer oriented than any Hilton or Westin I've stayed at.

Of course, cheap hotels can also be a crap shoot.  In small towns where they are the only chain hotel they are often nicer, while in bigger/destination cities, they are much more likely to be nasty.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Also, Too, Technocrats

I actually do understand the sentiment Atrios mentions here, particularly among a subset of the well educated.  The thought process is fairly simple:
Really smart, capable people can come up with some solution X to problem Y, but most people won't understand it so wouldn't it be great if we just had a system where said really smart capable person were also pushy enough to get whatever she wants and just implements great ideas?

It actually seems really convincing at some level, but it ignores a few things. The biggest is that two different but equally smart and capable people could come to different solutions to the same problem.  This is even more likely if the problem and/or solution is complex.

So what happens when both are also really pushy and get their way?  The answer is either gridlock, or compromise, or taking turns trying things, with voters switching things off if they go poorly, i.e. the system we have.

There are still problems of course, and since it seems one of them is that Republicans have way more pushy people who get their way, the idea the Democrats need some of those too makes sense.  In the past 20 years (some may say >30) Republicans have managed to get a lot of their policy passed by being assholes.  I don't think that putting Democratic assholes in is necessarily the right answer, but the alternative seems to be people who roll over and give Republicans more wins than they should get.

[Another big flaw with the thought is: what happens when an idea that seems smart actually has a major flaw--like with the Euro--but the implementer is the pushy one who gets his way?]

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Seems Like A Bad Idea

Apple's new "Lightning" connectors seemed like a bad idea out of the box to me, but the way they are designed to make it very unlikely to get good, inexpensive spares and replacements really seems bad.

Up through the 4s, it didn't make too much difference between Android and Apple.  The top of the line androids were faster and had more features, and better access (file transfer issues) but there wasn't really a practical difference for 99% of users.  The 5 however seems to have screwed themselves over. Nevermind their new garbage maps program replacing Google, the new connector is a real head-scratcher.

Already people who have accessories for older Apple devices are no longer locked into future Apple products which won't be compatible (without adapter).  But the expense of buying a few extras is a little obscene.  I like to have at least 4 charging/usb cables: one for home, one for work, one for the car and one for travel.  For Android phone those are standard micro-USB and you can get a dozen for less than $20.  For the previous Apple jacks, the non-branded ones were close in price.  Now instead of $10 for all the connectors you want it is likely to cost >$100.

I've never been a huge apple fan, but I got an iphone (3g), I thought the ipods were excellent, and I even liked some of their computers (other than the very overpriced aspect).  Really, though, Apple products mostly offer a high cost premium for user friendly but often substandard otherwise products and so are primarily for people with plenty of spare cash who don't actually care about performance. 

(I was tempted to use the term "Rich idiots" but that really isn't fair: there is no meaningful performance difference for the vast majority of people, and apple does have more apps, but it does speak to a selection of style over substance and a willingness to light a couple hundred dollars on fire for it.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Things I can't get too excited about...

Ikea removing women from ads.  Ads exist to sell things.  If showing women in a bikinis helps to sell, then companies do that.  If adding a dog or cat helps to sell, then companies do that.  So it seems pretty obvious that a company trying to sell into a very misogynistic society that finds images of women to be highly offensive, would not show images of women.  I suppose they could have removed all the people so that it was less...obvious?...but if people in the ads helps sales, and women hurt, then you will see ads with people but not women. 

Now, the anti-woman attitude in Saudi Arabia is certainly highly offensive, and anyone who is really offended about this should be offended that Ikea is selling there at all, not that they removed women from the ads.  Maybe Ikea should be trying to change the world by opening a store then publishing an ad that will offend the people who could shop there?  Maybe by offending some, Ikea could have reaped huge rewards from all the women who would come to purchase things there in support?  ...Or maybe it's all a clever ruse, and after they sell a certain amount they will announce that the entire supply chain producing furniture for Saudi Arabia was composed of lesbians...lesbians who had sex on all the furniture before it shipped infecting it with the highly contagious lesbianacervix bacterium which makes male dangly bits turn to sand and fall off.

Or maybe Ikea wants to make money and it's cheap and easy to Photoshop out the women...

Large companies can--and it is admirable when they do--challenge the status quo and be a force for good, but I don't really expect it of them--though maybe I should--and I get a little confused when other people do.  In reality the bigger the company, the less concern it has for anything other than profit.  Smaller companies and businesses care about their workers because the CEO has to see them every day.  They care about the community because it affects their workers and because they live there (or at least have to drive through).

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Feel the Love

I think Philly.com has the absolute worst people on the planet populating their comment section.  An article about feeding kids breakfast at schools and the entire comments section is populated with people bitching about "their tax dollars" spent on kids whose parents suck.  Now, even if all those parents are drug-addled, child-endangering miscreants, how shitty a person do you have to be to think that feeding hungry children is a waste of money?

Update: It seems they have removed all the comments. Not sure scrubbing off the vile is the appropriate response, but whatevs

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tiny Living


I am a big fan of small housing (an opinion not shared by all in my household).  My house is just under 1200 sq ft, and if it were not for family/friend visits I would be happy with something half the size.  So I have enjoyed looking at/reading this piece on CNN and this other piece on small apartments in the city.  I have a bit of a bone to pick...
At a minimum 150 square feet of living space — 220 when you add the bathroom, kitchen and closet — the proposed residences are being hailed as a pivotal option for singles. Opponents fear that a wave of "shoe box homes" would further marginalize families of modest means who are desperate for larger accommodations.
So opponents, at least as represented here, are stupid.  Then...
The number of micro-units that could be built under the proposal would not be capped, although critics are pushing for controls on the experiment. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, for instance, has signed off on just 60 apartments that would be 275 to 300 square feet small.
One of the best thing about these micro units is that they can bring down costs for all housing (increased supply, constant demand, you know, basic econ).  However, that will not be possible if they are constrained in number to such a degree.

In fact, one of the reasons that housing in some areas is inaccessibly expensive is because zoning prohibits undertaking the kind of development that would drive costs down.  And that is, of course, because current owners don't want to see their property values decline.  The odd thing is people who don't want removal of the obstacles to low priced housing because they want low priced housing?!?

A-Yup

From Noahpinion's EconoTrolls Bestiary...

Scientists

"[M]acro is mostly a 'science' without falsification. In other words, it is barely a science at all. Microeconomists know this. The educated public knows this. And that is why the prestige of the macro field is falling."
How they see themselves:
How the world sees them:
Favorite blog: Noahpinion
Favorite dead economist: Are you kidding? That's the only good kind!
Will appear in response to posts regarding: Economic methodology, statistics, math
Craziest idea: That economists should do experiments
Special attack: the "economics isn't science" taunt
Secret weaknesses: bad posture, the knowledge that economists get paid more than they do
Notes: This troll, which periodically ventures into the Econ Blogworld, attempts to intimidate its enemies by the puffing up of its Physics Credentials in a strange sort of dominance display. This tactic can easily be defeated by immediately presenting the troll with a deceptively difficult or even insoluble math problem, and then ridiculing the troll for failing to solve it in short order.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fiat Money



Fiat money is very confusing.  It is magic, and to both stupid people who focus on it and smart people that don't it is too good to be true, so it must be crap. The thing is, though, that the gold standard is pretty much the same, except that it is hugely beneficial to people who managed to get some wealth together in the past.  Gold's "intrinsic value" as a currency comes from the fact that it is a noble metal (doesn't go bad), it is relatively easy to verify, it can be broken into smaller units, and so for people with less technology available is an excellent source of liquidity currency.  Unfortunately it is relatively fixed in supply, so it can't well accommodate growing economies (necessary deflation will always end up killing any growth potential).

Basically the only way for prices to be stable or (prefereably) inflate over time is for the amount of gold found to meet or exceed the growth in the economy.  That may be possible over certain periods, but not in a predictable way or for the long run: the world has a fixed supply of gold, and after enough time the only profitable industry would be mining gold.

So gold is a pretty good currency 1000 years ago, but really, really bad today.  What about the magic of fiat money?  I think Brad DeLong has up an excellent overall post that gets down to why any advanced economy needs (yes needs) fiat currency.

It is simply not the case that we can cheaply and easily buy things with money because it is valuable. It is, instead, the case that money is valuable because we can cheaply and easily buy things with it.

One way into the tangle of understanding why it is wrong is to ask each of us: Why are you happy accepting money in exchange when we sell useful commodities?

Hint: It's not because we are looking forward to going down to the bank, exchanging our bank notes for the little disks of gold usually decorated with pictures of bearded men on one side and allegorical female figures on the other with lettering saying things like "Fecund Augustae" or "Concordia Militum" or "Fides Exercituum" on them, taking our little disks home, and feeling happy looking at them.

That's not why we accept money.

We accept money because if we don't have any money we have to buy commodities with other commodities, and when we do so we are unlikely to receive the cost of production for what we sell. Have you ever tried to buy a latte at Peets with a copy of Ludwig von Mises's Money and Credit? It does not go well.

The fact is that your wealth is only worth its cost of production if you are liquid--if you can wait to sell until somebody willing to pay full cost of production comes along, which is not every minute. The use-value of money is that it allows you to time your other transactions so that you can realize the full exchange value of what you sell, rather than having to sell it at a discount.

I don't think there is a good way to summarize, but the way I try and think about fiat money is this: the worth of an economy is measured by its total production of goods and services, not the amount of gold it possesses.  But direct trading of goods and services is difficult so something liquid should exist to make transactions easier.  That something must, however, be able to grow (and shrink) to accommodate the changes in the total economic output as well as to provide stability with some modest inflation (deflation is bad, bad, bad).  Gold cannot do this, but fiat money can.  If you want an economy that grows, innovates, advances, and improves the lives of everyone, you need to have fiat money flowing through that economy.

Aside: How much inflation?  Historically it looks like ~4% is probably good, but I like the arguments for using NGDP (~5% total inflation plus growth) which is probably a better target since it allows for inflation and growth to trade off without running away. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Rich Are Still Mostly Greedy

Rewind the clock 60 years.  There was a much smaller gap between the 1% and the rest of us.  The lives and well beings of workers was improving dramatically.  The wealthy were, however, doing just fine, much, much better than were workers even in those halcyon days of labor unions, responsible, regulated banks and when the wealthiest actually did create jobs and do good.

Today large numbers of the wealthy do not create so much as destroy (break contracts, lay off workers, extract profits and bankrupt companies and communities).  And yet, such is technological progress that even with the leaches at the top the less fortunate still have a higher standard of living compared with 60 years ago.  Food is cheaper.  Things that were luxury items are necessities, and items that didn't even exist are now commonplace.  A modern $1000 entertainment system transported back 60 years could probably fetch millions in 1950's dollars!  So maybe the wealthy today don't feel like they have things as good as 60 years ago despite their swollen coffers simply because it is so much cheaper to have a modest level of comfort.

Technology is doing what it is supposed to: it is improving everyone's standard of living.  The wealthy (Wall Street types in particular) are using this, however, as an excuse to take more for themselves.  This is what the Romney campaign is really about, as made clear in his video.  Imani makes the point at that link:
If you think for one second that just because The Poors™ may have a cell phone, or an Xbox, or a refrigerator (A FUCKING REFRIGERATOR!), or are unfortunate enough to get gout (because apparently only rich people get gout, doncha know!), that they are living high off the hog (as they try to raise a family of four on $20K per year), then you lack empathy for Americans; you lack respect for Americans...
Maybe the rich are angry because the standard of living for rich vs. poor was greater in the past even as the income disparity was less.  Maybe the great equalizer that is the internet--which has made many more wealthy--has allowed more knowledge and insight into other classes, so the masses can get justly angry at the means by which they acquired their means, and the mechanisms that they employ that wealth, and so the rich get angry because people now can find them out in a way that wasn't possible before.  Also, too, the rich who were so proud of their first flat screen TV 12 years ago that cost $10k see people earning $35k a year with a bigger, flatter television (which only cost them $700) so clearly the "poor" are better off.

In fact the major discrepancies today between rich and poor come down to health (care and prevention) and housing/property.  There are certainly differences in degree on things like travel, vacation, possessions (particularly high end cars, boats, and in some cases planes) but the major differences to living standards come in housing and health, the rest is just show.  

As bad as things seem today, and as much as many people look to days of yore as a model to what we could be, I would still rather be alive in my prime today. That doesn't mean we can't learn from then, but all of us really do have it better now.  The wealthy just don't seem to think that's fair.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Confirmation

I wonder if Rahm thinks it's a good thing that Paul Ryan is on his side, or if maybe, just maybe, it'll help him see things from the Democratic perspective.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Friday, September 07, 2012

But But But...Drugs Are Baaaad

I really don't understand why marijuana is illegal, so this type of finding will likely have no effect on things.

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

I really don't see how this is going to end well.  Republicans are just better at gaming the system, and it works for them so the logical conclusion to the mess is for the Democrats to lie cheat and steal in the same way and to the same extent (which they very much do not do right now). 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Restaurant Business is Brutal

There is a shuttered restaurant in the train station by my house.  Great location, had a bar, pretty good food, apparently popular for watching Phillies games.  Should be a slam dunk, but it wasn't.  It closed withing 3 months of my moving in and has been shut for something like 3 years now.  It is [still] for sale and the price just came down, but looking at the price and the setup, I'm not sure the restaurant could possibly do well enough. 

They are asking $700k, and that does not include the building (which leases for a "favorable" $3500/mo for at least the first couple years...the building had a published lease price of $6k/mo).  This means that the business needs to turn nearly $150k/year in profit (not including any salary the owner would need if working there as well).  Restaurant margins, particularly at startup are notoriously small, and a 5% profit margin would require $3 million per year in sales/revenue (or a bit over $8k/day).

Being kind about the lease and not taking that out of profit means only ~$100k profit per year, but adds the lease to the operating expenses cutting the margin by 1-2% and leaving the business in about the same position.  Really well managed/operated could bring margins up to maybe 12%, and then things are getting close.

But even those numbers assume that the $700k is good to go. In reality, there will be lots more upfront costs from cleaning and setup, to training new staff to advertising.  

Restaurants require lots of work, and good management.  I'd love to see this place succeed,and it could, but it will require someone capable and willing.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Horrible People

I'm not sure that the [type of] "men" referenced by Fiona Loyd-Davies were ever in touch with reality when it comes to rape.  This isn't new.  What is really shocking is that any woman, anywhere, no matter how conservative, can vote for any Republican.  I think the GOP has more respect for the gays than the ladies and their lady parts.

Also, the whole Assange thing is just beyond weird.  I'm not even sure how to have an opinion on that without a series of if-then statements or sounding like a conspiracy nut or ass hole or something.  I will say it is possible that he is both guilty and has legitimate fears regarding extradition to the US.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Continued Bad Statistics of the Gender Wage Gap and Why it Shouldn't Matter

Yes, there is a gender wage gap.  Yes, some fraction (maybe a lot maybe very little) is due to discrimination.  No, I don't think people should harp on the numbers because the statistics in this case are just not very good, and Bryce is a bit misleading in the numbers she casually tosses out in the above linked piece.

The best numbers available are probably from Gov Accountability Office (GAO), where they make a major effort to factor out life choices, and that effort cuts the pay gap by more than 50% (the report covers 1983 - 2000 so you can't compare those results directly to the current gap as she did) so the 21% gap that results is compared to a 44% uncorrected gap, which is much larger than the current 23% gap and could imply that the corrected gap today is anywhere from ~20% to less than 5% to anything between. The infuriating thing is the numbers/statistics squabbling.  The issue of fair pay should be an easy one for everyone to get behind.  If discrimination is a huge issue then enacting laws that counter that is necessary and will do good things for women and families.  If discrimination is a complete non-issue, then enacting laws preventing discrimination will lead to no improvement because there is nothing to fix.

Just pass and enact the damned laws!  If the pay gap shrinks, we'll know it works, if it doesn't we will know that there is more going on and we will have information on where to look next.

Eggs

I've a feeling this study is flawed. For a long time eggs were very bad because cholesterol.  But for the past decade and a half we have learned that for most people eating cholesterol is not, itself, bad.  Eating lots of saturated fat and perhaps lots of simple carbohydrates are more likely candidates for bad health.  For eggs in particular, the long run studies say that ~1 egg per day is not bad, except maybe if you are diabetic.

Now I realize that the studies are different, and I don't have full article access so I don't know how they controlled for things like butter, but eggs in general are protein/vitamin rich and the protein and fat helps to feel sated at lower levels of calories than carbs and far more doctors and nutritionists are high on eggs than down on them.  I think I'll eat eggs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Things I'd Rather Post...

It's so fucking cool the things we can do.

In general I really don't like politics.  I love science.  But science is very largely funded by the government.  There is no return on investment for the latest Mars lander that would entice a private launch.  It can't happen.  Same with particle physics, fundamental chemistry/biology and more.  Yet that research is necessary to get to the technological breakthroughs that are important.

If you want to open a store be glad that the government built the roads and/or transit that gives [more] people [easier] access.  If you operate an online marketing business be glad that multiple governments did all the hard work creating the internet.  If you want to develop new technology be glad that the government funded all sorts of insane-sounding-at-the-time research projects that led to lasers, PTFE's, quantum entanglement,...

20 years ago science and facts were pretty universally accepted.  Yes, there have always been anti-science people in the US (mostly religious but some cranks, pseudo-scientists, frauds, nuts), but politically they didn't have much of a voice (which is fitting, as they are not much of the public).  Today the anti-science segment of society has a nearly equal share of the seats as the much much larger pro science segment: i.e. pretty much any Republican politician.  This doesn't mean that all Republicans are anti-science, but that all Republican politicians at the federal level must enact anti-scientific policies and legislation in order to maintain their seats.

So we have Romney who maybe/probably is aware that global warming is real, a threat, and largely attributable to human behavior picking a running mate who is full on conspiracy theorist on the topic.  The GOP debates included contests to see who could be the most anti-science (remember the evolution question?).

This is not sustainable.  We deserve political contests where facts are not debatable.  We deserve to vote for Obama or Romney based on policy differences where both sides' policies have reasonable, factual basis.  What we have is a lying and insane right wing controlling the GOP and a set of weak, complacent Democrats who refuse to actually fight them (also too, in many cases, they just appropriate the right's formerly not so crazy positions). 

So I post on politics.  Because we need to have a sane and competent government to get the best out of society.

Obama: Still Not a Liberal

We have laws protecting whistle-blowers because sometimes that's the only way things change. As for where the president stands here:
The Obama administration has responded by ordering that thousands of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement employees be questioned about media leaks when they’re polygraphed during security clearance screenings. In an unprecedented move, the administration also has criminally prosecuted numerous government employees for leaking. Whistleblower and media advocates fear that the aggressive efforts will have a chilling effect on the reporting of government wrongdoing but won’t stop classified information from being leaked when it’s politically advantageous to administrations.
Meanwhile:
Wes Clark reveals he heard, on roughly September 21, 2001, that Bush had a plan to take out 7 countries in 5 years. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

He told this story about 6 years later. He called it a policy coup.

That was 5 years ago. Since that time, largely in response to the Arab Spring, we “liberated” Libya. We’re preparing to (if have not already done so) arm al-Qaeda related rebels in Syria. We’re inventing reasons to sanction a Lebanese terror-related political party. We’ve been violating sanctions to wage war in Somalia, including with drones, and have fiddled with several incarnations of government. And our Iran sanctions–which are fairly clearly about regime change–are really beginning to hurt the Iranian people.
This is not a liberal/progressive/democratic president.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The GOP is Trying Hard

To make me vote for Obama. 

I have zero desire to vote for Obama.  I think he has been a disaster from a progressive standpoint on just about any issue (women's rights and maybe gay rights withstanding, but even for those he's really just not horrible at his best).  I had no plans to vote the top of the ticket at all.  But it seems like every week the GOP in general and the Romney campaign specifically do something that makes me consider acceptable voting for a president who assassinated an American citizen.

The latest, of course, is the horrid choice of vice president.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yep

Reading this Post article is more catharsis than anything.  I pretty much agree with Westen on all points, particularly:
Obama’s first mistake was inviting the Republicans to the table. The GOP had just decimated the economy and had been repudiated by voters to such an extent that few Americans wanted to admit that they were registered Republicans. Yet Obama, with his penchant for unilateral bipartisanship, refused to speak ill of what they had done. The American people wanted the perpetrators of the Great Recession held accountable, and they wanted the president and Congress to enact legislation to prevent Wall Street bankers from ever destroying the lives of so many again. Instead they saw renewed bonuses — and then they saw red. Republicans learned very quickly that they could attack Obama and his agenda with impunity. Only at election time, or when he’s up against the ropes, does this president ever tell a story with a villain.
That isn't to say that I disagree with Kevin Drum here.  My biggest frustration is to try and reconcile the above statement with Drum's semi-rebuttal:
First: Obama had to invite Republicans to the table. When he took office Democrats didn't have a filibuster-proof majority...Still, life in the White House is pretty difficult when you have to constantly concern yourself with getting a couple of Republican votes, or, at best, the 60th most liberal Democrat — especially when the 60th most liberal Democrat is a self-righteous showboat like Joe Lieberman or a Nebraska pol like Ben Nelson.
The answer in a rational world should have been simple:  Any GOP senator from any state in the northeast that ever wanted to be reelected should go along with whatever Obama had put on the table those first months.  I think both the Obama administration and Senate Democratic leadership (Harry Reed) were horrid failures when it came to recognizing that they had the upper hand and could have used it.  Maybe they didn't want to but then that is their failure. 

The reality is certainly more complicated, but lots of people were pretty open to trying anything then, and what ended up being tried was just not enough.  I would add that the stimulus was sold as a major victory that would right the economy which really made the first failure even worse. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Inter-Generational Mobility is Confusing

When I read through posts and then comments on [wealth/income] mobility in society I get the feeling that lots of people don't understand that inter-generational aspect of it.  Mobility in society is less about me making a bit more or less over time and more about where I am compared to where my parents are.

If we really believe that wealth/income relate to achievement and ability then a high mobility is a defining characteristic of that.  Low mobility doesn't mean better off individuals are pushed down by up and comers, it means that the children of better off individuals do better than the children of less well off individuals.  Think of high mobility as a generational reset.  Each new baby will end up as successful as their talents allow, no more no less.

There is no reason to believe that the children in the Walton family are any more capable than the children of school teachers or janitors.  The reason the Walton children do well is because their parents have wealth, and the reason that the Walton parents have wealth is because Sam Walton had a lot of success.  Someone could be born to the Walton family without the mental facilities to tie shoelaces and that person will be a incredulously wealthy individual for his/her entire life.

On the other hand if a genius is born in inner city Baltimore to a way below the poverty line black family then that child will have to struggle to survive and even if he/she does "get out" and find success that success is most likely to mean a college degree and $60k/year.  Pretty good and remarkable considering the outlook, but in a "fair" society that strives for greatness then the Walton child would end up a janitor and the Baltimorian [?] would be a rocket scientist or CEO.

Now we can't have the level of mobility that resets everything...mostly because more successful people would never (nor should they ever) allow their children to be subject to such a system.  Society may have been better off if W had ended up failing out of state school and living the rest of his life as a drunk in a trailer park working as carnival operator, but George and Barbara would never have stood for such.

This is why people use the term "upwardly mobile".  We don't want to prevent parents from doing well by their children, but we do want to give children opportunities when their parents cannot afford to do so.

High mobility means that ability and drive can create success (and that sloth and idiocy can destroy it) even when mom and/or dad can't foot the bill.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A-yup.

Even when HAMP was announced it didn't seem that great a thing.  As time went on it was pretty obvious that about the only folks who could possibly benefit were bankers.  Li'l Timmy is, by most accounts, a pretty smart guy, and he is certainly a very pro-financial institutions kind of guy, so that this program was deliberately designed to help the banks and not homeowners isn't really surprising to me.  That there is some form of evidence regarding this that is only now being brought to light is...well, not really surprising either. 

Yes, It is Terrorism

I'm fairly certain that the media just don't understand what "terrorism" is (which is why Atrios put this up).  Just to be clear: someone who goes someplace with lots of people and starts killing them is a terrorist.  That person may not be connected with any organization, and may not have any agenda, but that is a terrorist.  Full Stop.

Anyone saying that the killings at the movie theater in Colorado are not the work of a terrorist really means, "not a [Muslim/Arab/Middle Eastern/...] terrorist".  For fuck's sake the people who protest abortion by calling doctors murderers and the women whores are terrorists.  They are trying to intimidate and frighten people. 

The murderer in Colorado is also a terrorist.  He may be white (and Christian) and he may not have an agenda (at least not one that is known yet) but he is a terrorist. 

Monday, July 09, 2012

Option B

In the post below I reference an older idea where the Fed would buy student loans.  People would keep paying them off, but however much was sent in for the loans would be returned on a cash card that they had one month to spend.  Basically it was a way to boost the economy that would also help deal with the "people will just save the extra" issue that can arise from most give people money schemes.

It made me think of other strategies to work this.  A clearinghouse strategy that people could opt into.  Basically the government (maybe the fed) will pay off your debt matched to your spending.  It would have a similar effect to that above, but would be more versatile.

It starts with a government owned/subsidized/controlled bank, let's call it "The Fed" which has effectively unlimited supply of money at its disposal.

Then every citizen of the US is issued an account with this bank, into which it can transfer certain debt.  Different limits would apply to different debt.  The transfer option would be open for 1 year.  The account would last for a [user defined?] period of 2-5 years.  No debt accrued after the opening of the accounts would be eligible (not the transfer, the opening).

This would function like any standard bank account.  Any amount of money could be transferred into the account up to the total debt initially placed in there, and that money would a) pay off the debt and b) be available for use through a debit card.  It cannot be transferred to savings or be used it to pay a mortgage or student loans (they don't go away...yet) but it could probably pay most bills.  Any savings, investment, along with the mortgage and student loan payments would have to be from funds not deposited to the account.

For example: someone with $4k take-home per month, $45k of student loans and a $225k mortgage on a $185k house transfers in $40k of student loan debt and $100k in housing debt for $140k total.  The timer is set to 5 years.  She sends half of her paycheck to her normal bank from which she pays mortgage, student loan (minimums), any bills that can't be charged, and maybe sets some aside for savings/emergency cash.  The other half goes to the debt bank, and with that card she pays for groceries, online purchases, clothing, bills, maybe some is saved up over time to be used for vacation, et cetera. At the end of 5 years $120k of debt is "paid off" and that total is dispersed to the relative accounts proportional to what went in (~$85.7k to the mortgage and ~$34.3k to the student loans).  If this is enough to pay off entirely either one of these then the excess goes to the other, and if both are paid off entirely is returned in cash to her.  If she added a bit more after year one and reached the $140k limit ahead of time, then that would end the program and everything would be paid out then.

Note that any funds put into the account but not spent would be "lost" (actually just the bonus money is lost, it still pays off debt).  To encourage faster spending setting a 3 month time period on the funds going in would help.

This type of mechanism is helpful for a few reasons.  One is that it helps with getting out from under debt in a meaningful way: if she can put $140k into that account over 5 years she can probably completely eliminate her student loan and get a huge fraction of her mortgage covered.  It is also no risk: she doesn't lose out on that money to paying off debt, it pays off debt and she gets to use it for normal spending.  She doesn't have to worry about a surprise repair bill preventing her from paying into this, because money paid in can be used to cover that surprise.  It is also a boost to demand: the money is only a bonus if people spend it on stuff, so it encourages more spending.

The biggest downside is that it is overly beneficial to people with decent jobs and lots of debt, but there are a couple fixes: one is the debt limits, and the other is some partial to complete payoff option.  The payoff option would be a benefit to lower income individuals: anyone who put at least [income/2k]% into the account could be forgiven up to [10k/income]% of the total (someone making $25k/year would need to put at least 12.5% into the account and could be forgiven up to 40% of the total).