Archive for the ‘Politics 2005’ Category

The Thinker

Squeezed

For me the last day of the year is a day to take stock of my financial universe. If I wasn’t feeling the pain of most middle income Americans before, after I got through looking at the details of my family’s personal situation I do now. Our upper middle class family is being squeezed too. I feel fortunate that so far, while we have coped rather well. Yet we are being squeezed nonetheless. So are you. Now I have all the proof I need: my income vs. expenses reports churned out by my Quicken financial software.

2005 is the first year since the 1980s that my family has had less income than the previous year. This is due entirely to my wife losing her IT Help Desk job a year ago. She did not find another job in her field until a couple months ago. Where she used to work full time, she is now working part time. She now makes a fraction of her former wages and at least one third less per hour than her old job. In her last job, she had a 401-K and access to health insurance. In her new job, being a part timer, she has neither.

The good news is that she is really enjoying the job. The bad news is that with substantially less income than we had in 2004, we are not living quite as we used to. Granted, we are not eating dog food, but the fact that this is happening at all to my family when we have known nearly twenty years of steady income growth is disquieting.

In 2004 when we were flush, we spent over $6K so my wife could get elective surgery. In 2005, this is totally out of the question. In addition to elective surgery, we have cut back on other medical expenses. We are not getting the level of mental health care we got in 2004. Our insurance is reasonably generous with mental health benefits, and allows up to 26 sessions per year with co-pay. In 2005, these benefits were exhausted by July. We could have paid $150 a visit out of pocket for the rest of the year, but that is $3900. Ouch. In 2006, we will hope that our mental health benefits stay the same. Unless my wife makes a lot more money, although members may need weekly visits it will mean biweekly visits.

I bet that most of you are going through similar experiences. The Bush Administration talks about how wonderful the economy is. Consumer confidence, having tanked earlier in the year, is now rising again. I do not give too much credence to those numbers. I know that in the real America of 2005 things are different. If your family’s fortunes increased during 2005, consider yourself lucky: you are bucking a general trend. I hope your luck continues. My experience and the experience of many others of us suggest you are likely living on borrowed time. Most of the rest of us downsizing our lives. In my case, the downsizing is so far relatively modest, but it is still a bit scary. If my family’s downsizing continues for a few more years, our choices will get increasingly troubling.

Here is the reality for this upper middle class household. Things cost much more than are stated in the inflation numbers. Even though I am fortunate enough to have an existing locked in mortgage, my property taxes are rising. Ours are up about $500 from last year. This means that my monthly mortgage payments are also going up. Other big-ticket items going up: health insurance is up $400 compared to 2004. Copays for medicines: up $300. These three items alone add up to $1200 more money I had to pay in 2005, and with markedly less income. I do not track gasoline as a separate expense, but if I did, I am sure it would amount to at least a couple hundred dollars more a year.

Then there are the nickel and dime things that when totaled amount to real money: cable TV, auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, association fees and electricity. Except for the cable TV, none of these are services that we can really do without. To compensate we have cut cash expenditures, charitable giving, dining out, entertainment, food (we are eating plainer), and gifts (nearly in half).

When we can, we are also deferring big expenses. We are less likely to engage in project like replacing the roof. Fortunately, before my wife lost her job we had finished all the costly home repair projects. My priorities are to keep a roof over our heads, put as much money as I possibly can into retirement accounts and keep contributing to my daughter’s college education fund. On the latter by May with virtually no income coming in from my wife, we cut our contributions to our daughter’s college fund from $400 to $200 a month. You can only pinch a nickel so far when you are living on one income.

Speaking of investments, I am really disappointed by how mine are doing. I bet you are too. Mine are nothing fancy: mutual funds that tend to track indexes. My USAA Income fund, which I purchased for low risk and started buying in 2002, has had essentially flat performance. Now it is worth about $120 less than what I paid for it. I am losing money on it, although the amount is small compared to the total investment. My USAA S&P 500 fund, which went gangbusters when Clinton was in office and the tech boom was hot, followed the very flat stock market since Bush took office. My total gain is 9.2% or about 1% a year, much of it realized before Bush took office!

These funds are set aside for our daughter’s education. I followed what I thought was sound financial advice at the time. Over seven years I expected some return on my investment that exceeded inflation. However, our non-indexed fund did much worse. Our USAA Growth Fund has lost 26% of its value since we began purchasing shares in 1996.

What a fool I was. I was taking mainstream actions, just like you I bet, and we still got screwed. I feel that we have been taken to the cleaners by the Bush Administration. No wonder Bush’s attempts to privatize Social Security fell flat with the public. Americans simply had to look at their portfolios and realize, “We sure don’t need more of this!” Bush may be good for his big business cronies, but he is not good for the average investor who will need the money they are so diligently and painfully saving. Business taxes and capital gains may have been cut, but it has not resulting in any more wealth for me because I am not realizing any gains! The only good thing about selling a fund is that since I am losing money on it, I can take it as a deduction on my tax returns.

So just how is Bush really good for business? The reality is that stock prices have been flat. If a company has profits, they are more likely to use it to buy back their own stock instead of passing the profits on to shareholders. As The Washington Post reported this week, it is not translating into increased share prices, as it has in the past. It does however give the company more clout over its own future, and shareholders less.

I am no longer fooled. Don’t you be fooled any longer either. The Bush Administration and our Republican Congress have proven over five years that they are bad for your bottom line. Just run your family’s financial numbers as I did. I bet you see a similar trend. Bush and his Republican cohorts in Congress are systematically and very deliberately stealing wealth from all but the richest of us. If they continue with their reckless foolishness, we will be back to a society of rich and poor, with no one in the middle. As long as this crew remains in charge, you can expect the trend to exacerbate.

With the New Year comes mid term elections in November. If you are planning to vote your economic interests, you would do well to send as many of Republicans as possible in Congress packing.

 
The Thinker

The Meaning of the Law

Back in May, I asked the question “Why do we have governments?” As I said back then, the answer was not rocket science. After disclosures this week that President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless electronic eavesdropping on American citizens, not just once, but apparently thirty times since 9/11, I have to wonder if President Bush missed some fundamental lectures on government too. Could Mr. Bush accurately answer the question, “Why do we have laws?” I doubt it.

Maybe he would answer something like, “Laws are rules that people must follow, except presidents, particularly when it comes to the nation’s national security.” The disclosure this week by The New York Times of these illegal wiretaps and Bush’s subsequent bizarre rationalization suggests that it will take a new administration to remove this terminal case of cognitive dissonance from the White House.

His “logic” seems to go something like this. Despite this FISA statute that explicitly prohibits eavesdropping on American citizen’s telephone calls without approval from the special secret FISA court, FISA was countermanded by the joint resolution passed by Congress on September 14th, 2001. It gave me carte blanc powers for anything I think might even be remotely related to 9/11.

Of course, the resolution says nothing about authorizing wiretapping against American citizens without a warrant. You would think it would be clear from the title of the resolution, which is “Authorization for the Use of Military Force”. Moreover, it authorized the use of our armed forces “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Thus far, Jose Padilla is the only United States citizen charged in the United States with helping the Al Qaeda terrorists. (He was finally charged years after he was first detained.) He has had a tough time getting a trial for his alleged crime, because Bush declared him an enemy combatant. Padilla has been languishing in a military brig for three and a half years, stripped of the rights we assume all Americans have, including the right to a fair trial. Even so, this joint resolution sounds like it does authorize the president to send the military against any American who might have colluded with the enemy. Unless these few errant citizens are engaged against our forces in combat, you would think it would be much simpler to send the FBI and charge them with treason.

In this case, we are talking about the National Security Agency. The last I checked the NSA was not part of the military. In addition, it cannot exert any military force. The guards at the front desk at the NSA may have a pair of revolvers, but it is unlikely that we will see brigades of NSA eavesdroppers ever going into battle. Of course, the NSA likely does fine intelligence work, but they simply are not a military force. If you polled members of the 107th Congress, I bet you would be hard pressed to find any member who thought that in passing Joint Resolution 23 they were invalidating part of the FISA law.

Even Bush seems to acknowledge his actions broke the FISA law.

QUESTION: Why did you skip the basic safeguards of asking courts for permission for the intercepts?

BUSH: First of all, right after September the 11th, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war. And so I asked people in my administration to analyze how best for me and our government to do the job people expect us to do, which is to detect and prevent a possible attack. That’s what the American people want.

There is only one wee problem to his logic. It is this minor thing called the Oath of Office. Bush solemnly swore to:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Of course, the U.S. Constitution sets a framework for laws that Congress may pass. To protect the constitution a president must necessarily enforce the laws passed by Congress. In fact, that is the whole point of being president: to faithfully execute our laws. (Commander in Chief is a separate duty which applies only to leading our armed forces.) The president does not make any laws. However, whether he agrees with them or not it is his solemn duty to do his best to uphold our laws. All of them.

However, Bush apparently thinks he can ignore laws when he does not agree with them. That this is wholly inconsistent with his oath of office does not bother him in the least.

Nevertheless, it should bother you. It should bother you a lot. The law may be smart or it may be stupid. Clearly, Bush thought the FISA law was stupid and dated after 9/11. Instead of doing what he should have done, which is to petition the Congress to change the statute, he flagrantly and repeatedly violated the law. Why did he do this? Most likely, because he knew that Congress would not change the law. So he invented the world’s most dubious excuse to circumvent it. It is as if he dropped his pants and mooned both Congress and the American people. You can almost hear him taunting, “I know what must be done and you are too stupid to do it. You are a bunch of morons. So I’ll do it anyhow.”

Consulting with a few members of Congress about his decision does not change the law. It does not make it okay. Even if it did, the information was classified. No one who knew about it could disclose their knowledge of it without breaking the law. That is why some of the few in Congress who did know what was going on, people like Senator Jay Rockefeller and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, chose to say nothing. If they had, they would have broken the law. They could have gone to prison. They respected the law, even though in this case they were clearly troubled by Bush’s apparently illegal acts.

Clearly, Bush had no qualms though. Therefore, the American public need to send him a clear message. No one person is above the law, and that includes the President of the United States. We need to bring this out in hearings. Then, if our Congress had any backbone, the House would impeach him and the Senate would remove him from office for flagrantly and repeatedly violating the law of the land.

This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of law. The law is meaningless unless it is enforced. The citizens of the former Soviet Union had rights. It included:

In accordance with the interests of the people and in order to strengthen and develop the socialist system, citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, meetings, street processions and demonstrations.

Did they have these rights? Sure, but only if they toed the line of the Communist Party. The reality was that the Soviet Union did not support these rights. Consequently, they became meaningless. By circumventing the FISA law, Bush used the law like toilet paper, and essentially canceled a right to privacy for hundreds of millions of Americans. In addition, he cheapened the rights and liberties of all American citizens.

In reality, he is destroying our way of life. We fought against the British because we wanted a government that represented our interests. Our constitution and laws define our liberties and rules of conduct. They apply equally to everyone.

Yet Bush thinks he is an exception. In reality, Bush is nothing but a bully. Bush is trying to win through intimidation. However, bullies have only as much power as we let them get away with. It is time for citizens to demand that our Congress hold Bush accountable for his law breaking. Let me be clear: your freedom and the freedom of your children depend on it. Otherwise, our future is going to start looking a lot like the Soviet Union’s.

 
The Thinker

You broke it, you own it

Earth to George W. Bush: no one made you invade Iraq. Rather you chose to invade Iraq. You broke it, so you own it.

Stop trying to shift the responsibility to the American people. Yes, it is true that Congress did authorize you to use force against Saddam Hussein, but only if you thought it was necessary for our national security. Congress did not say “go”. They gave you a qualified “go”. You made the judgment that there was an imminent threat to our national security. You said “go”. Therefore, you bear the responsibility for sending our troops into Iraq to contain a weapons of mass destruction threat that did not exist. You did so despite contradictory evidence. You did so despite the many sober expressions of caution and concerns from our closest allies.

Yes, and it was you who told us that Iraq was (and apparently to you still is) the central front on the war on terrorism, even though before the war we had only one despotic dictator with delusions of grandeur. It was you who linked, in your State of the Union address no less, Iraq, Iran (its enemy) and the wholly non-Islamic (but clearly wacked state) state of North Korea into an “Axis of Evil”. It was clear to everyone except possibly yourself that these three countries were not collaborating on anything.

You set the ball in motion. You made the decision. The buck stopped on your desk. You agreed to optimistic war plans that put insufficient troops on the ground and had no strategy for securing the peace. You are responsible for the debacle that followed. Colin Powell tried to warn you before going to war: you will own it. Not surprisingly, you want the American people to own your war. Leadership does not work that way. However, this is the way that weasels deal with big problems that are their fault.

You are sounding silly and shrill in your “major” speeches lately on the Iraq War. Your words belie the facts on the ground. The security situation is such that the Iraqi “government” must operate inside the U.S. protectorate state called the Green Zone or it would not operate at all. It has been proven ineffective at controlling the situation outside the Green Zone. Instead, we have the sad and sick reality of a country in chaos and anarchy. The plain facts are that no one controls anything in that country. However, anyone with an axe to grind can cause murder and mayhem with little chance of being held accountable.

You wanted to show the nation how virile you are. Instead, you have shown us just what a faux president you actually are. Because there is more to being president than making decisions. Being president also means being accountable for your actions. The American people expect that a president can recognize reality and when things do not go according to plan, will adjust forces accordingly to change the outcome.

However, you will have none of that. It is always “Stay the course” even though clearly staying the course has simply made things worse. By virtually every measure, Iraqis are worse off than they were before we invaded. Despite this, you keep seeing steady progress. You cannot recognize the obvious reality. You cannot even acknowledge the obvious truth that our mighty Army is disintegrating before our eyes. Clearly, we will not be able to sustain our troop strength in Iraq much longer anyhow, but you are heedless of the problem. Perhaps you expect that new patriots will spring up from the ground when needed. Is this your latest faith based initiative?

These are some of the reasons why your approval ratings are down so sharply. You are not a leader because only fools are following. American unfortunately has plenty of fools, but they are not in the majority. However, we do agree that the war on terrorism is hard work. So far, you have not shown much inclination to do the hard work necessary to change the situation. Why bother when it is easier to complain about how hard it is? You have, however, found plenty of time to go mountain biking and take extended vacations.

If you truly care about the War on Terrorism and our national security, you still have a few years left in your presidency to try to mend things. You can start by getting rid of the gang that led you into this war. This includes for starters Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. Then you need to talk to moderate and sober members of both parties and develop a national consensus. You need new sober minded people with experience and pragmatic natures in your leadership positions. Sadly, this does not appear to be in your nature. Nevertheless, you can at least apologize to the American people for your failings. You screwed up big time.

There is little in the way of commitment for the War in Iraq or the War on Terror aside from throwing more money on strategies that have proven unsound. Commitment takes real resolve and real sacrifice. Resolution requires providing sufficient resources and the right people to handle the reality. Sacrifice involves giving up some of today’s pleasures in order to ensure a better, safer and more orderly tomorrow. You asked for neither. It is not surprising then that your support has always been halfhearted.

There’s no fool like an old fool.

 
The Thinker

The Unfair FAIR Act

Because I guess the federal government does not have enough to do, it is time to throw a little fear, uncertainty and doubt at my agency. The Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act, or the FAIR Act for short, requires the government to examine every position with a fine toothcomb to determine if a federal position is “inherently governmental”. If it is, good news for the federal employee: job security. If it is not, the news may not be so good. Then the agency has to go through a rather costly, stupid and pointless process to prove that the private sector cannot do the same work cheaper.

In theory, this sounds like a good deal for the taxpayer. In practice, it is pennywise and pound-foolish. The FAIR Act has finally raised its head in my agency. It looks like in the next year or so my little world will undergo a FAIR Act evaluation. About a year ago, I was asked to use their bizarre codes to lump my employees into job categories. You can see some of them here. Since my people are in the information technology business, they fell under the “W” series of function codes. The function codes are relatively straightforward. The logic gets dubious because someone must also make a judgment as to whether the work is potentially commercial in nature. There are six reason codes from which to choose. I do not want to say the deck is stacked, but it is tough to give all but the highest management positions a 100% inherently governmental rating.

Take my job. Someone decided that the supervisory part of my job is commercial in nature. The management part is not. I am not entirely clear what the difference is and the dictionary is of little help. Anyhow, the powers that be, when they tried to put the square peg that is my job into the round hole of the Excel spreadsheet agencies must use to categorize employees decided that 75% of my job was commercial. Yes, supervision can be contracted out. Any dumb contractor can apparently walk around to see if someone is at their desk and appears to be doing work. The making decisions on behalf of the government, supposedly 25% of my job, are inherently governmental. Therefore, my job is apparently not safe from the grim reaper of outsourcing either. I imagine the three of us unit chiefs could easily be replaced by one federal employee, who spends his day doing nothing but pure “management”.

Here is my idea of what supervision is: making sure the people working for me do what they are supposed to do. It also includes ensuring they perform an honest day’s work, approving leave, scheduling training, job counseling and performance appraisals. How much of my time do I actually spend supervising? At most, it amounts to 10%. Why? Because I am not managing an assembly line. Every one of my employees is largely self-directed. At most they need a little guidance from me. They are not morons. In most cases, I could not do their work without a lot of training, so I am hardly qualified to tell them how to do their work. In short, like most federal employees GS-12 and above, they are all professionals. They should not need much in the way of supervision because they have college degrees, have a work ethic and take pride in their job. They need and easily work from a set of goals that I give them.

What is management? Doubtless, my definition will not meet whatever criteria the White House dreamed up, but it involves making and implementing decisions, based on firm guidance from my management. Within my sphere of control though, my decisions are sacrosanct. That makes the work management. The only difference though between my job and those of my employees is that they cannot make decisions on how others will spend their time unless I specifically delegate that responsibility. Of course, I routinely do just that. They are after all, professionals, not morons. Consequently, my team leader has his position rated at 50% management. It is actually likely more than that.

All of my employees were recently emailed their FAIR scores. Most of them have positions that are potentially commercial. Job title: information technology specialist. Sounds like it can be outsourced. Database administrator? It is just another commodity available on the open market. At least this is what passes for logic in the FAIR Act regulations. Employees might as well be hamburgers.

Except, of course, they are not. Why? Of course, they are people with families and commitments. But also my employees are in the hydrology business. Understanding the world of hydrology is critical to their effectiveness. You would be hard pressed to find too many universities in the United States that even offer degrees in hydrology. One could beat the bushes hoping to find people who have some skills in hydrology, information technology and legacy computer languages like Fortran. Good luck, I doubt there are many of them out there. To be optimized though they also tend to need a decade or two steeped in the culture of my agency. You need all three things to be effective in most of the jobs in my part of the federal government.

None of my employees are expendable. Unless the government makes the strategic decision to abandon more than a hundred years of science and get out of the water data collection business, we will keep doing measuring and monitoring ground and surface water for the nation. Moreover, my employees will continue to be engaged in collecting the information and putting it out there for the public. The public has a right to the information. After all, they paid for it.

In fact, the sure way to throw a monkey wrench into our science is to do just what the FAIR Act seems to want to do: replace most of my federal staff with off the shelf contract programmers. If this agency is like the last agency I worked for, most will be from India and here on H1-B visas. That agency did not save any money at all, since contractors routinely bill 100% overhead so they can make a profit. (Hint: the government is not in the business of making a profit.) My old agency was required to cut the number of federal positions. “Inherently governmental” in my old agency meant supervision or project management. If you were neither, sorry Charlie. Fortunately, learning the grants management business is a bit simpler than learning the hydrology business. Grants management is just another information system at heart. Hydrology is not. It is a specialized science.

So although it is not fair, we will doubtless go through this FAIR Act nonsense, which is required every five years for every position in the federal government. My employees are already nervous and I get the sense that some are quaking in their boots. All of them are superb, finely optimized and give far more in time and brilliance than the forty hours for which they are paid. Nevertheless, apparently we must treat them as commodities. The bottom line is whether according to the wacky FAIR benchmarks some beltway bandit can do the job cheaper. If so, some of them may be out of a job.

I seriously doubt in a truly fair competition that any private company could compete with us. However, according to the unfair FAIR Act their positions are fungible. They are just modern assembly line workers, easily replaced. Perhaps a contractor could do the work cheaper. Arguably, they do not come with annoying things like benefits and pensions. However, it is unlikely that any contractor also comes with dedication and passion to my agency’s mission. They will work their eight hours and then check out. In addition, it will be up to what is left of management to monitor their work to ensure fair value to the government. (Wait, that is supervision. Monitoring can be contracted out too! Therefore, no accountability is required. I am beginning to understand the ultimate nefarious purpose of the FAIR Act at work.)

I am sure there are legitimate cases where our work should be outsourced. They were outsourced long ago. It does not make any sense to me to have federal employees serving food in the cafeteria or cleaning the restrooms. However, any position that requires intimate and sustained domain knowledge of the agency’s mission should not be outsourced. We want these people to stick around. We do not want them dashing from contract to contract. Replacing just one of my employees with a contractor would require at least 1-2 years before they would be as productive as a federal employee. Moreover, they would have no incentive to stick around.

Of course, our executives, like the leadership of federal agencies everywhere, are under enormous pressure. Therefore, even though they know a lot of this outsourcing makes no sense, they must press forward anyhow. It is the law. They must salute and give the illusion that saving a few bucks is not counterproductive.

I do hope we get new leadership in both the Congress and the White House that is more sensible. At a minimum, the FAIR Act needs a major overhaul. Supposedly, the law is tuned to ensure best value for the government. The reality is that under the current rules, federal employees are at a significant and unfair disadvantage.

 
The Thinker

Clueless

If politics is theater then the last two days have been a lot like the movie Clueless. The American public has turned decisively and irrevocably against the war in Iraq. The American people know this war is lost and it is borne out in countless polls. Yet with a few exceptions, nobody in the White House or Capitol Hill can acknowledge that we are hanging in on a fool’s errand. That is why the excrement really hit the fan yesterday. The normally hawkish Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha yesterday simply acknowledged the sad reality in Iraq, and called for the immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. This stirred up a huge hornet’s nest.

There is an elephant sitting in the White House Briefing Room. There is another one roaming Capitol Hill. These elephants though do not represent Republicans. Instead, they are the elephants in the room that no one wants to acknowledge. These elephants have a simple message: we have lost the war in Iraq. It is all over but the body count. What we are witnessing, at least those of us tuned to C-SPAN, are furious denials asserting that the elephant is simply not really in the room. Despite massive and undeniable evidence that we have lost Iraq it cannot be openly acknowledged in Congress. Consequently, the Republican House leadership has its death rays trained on Rep. Murtha, a conservative, pro-defense advocate, who shed blood for this country in Vietnam. Murtha is the infidel that dared to acknowledge the elephant. The ironic part is they are really aiming their death rays at their own heads, but are too clueless to understand it.

Meanwhile the White House hopes that with sufficient vitriol, the elephant will disappear. Therefore, we get White House press secretary Scott McClellan absurdly comparing Rep. Murtha with Michael Moore. Yet what choice does Bush have? This is his only card: the wan hope that with sufficient pompous bravado and “stay the course” rhetoric that America will suddenly fall behind him again.

Ain’t gonna happen. Bush has cried wolf one too many times. He is now a parody of himself. All he can do is cry “Stay the course!” when it is clear to everyone but those who placed their trust in him that staying the course simply means more fiasco lies ahead.

Hello! It has been two and a half years since we unwisely invaded Iraq. Is the situation any better than it was when Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln? No, sorry, it is worse. Much worse. Moreover, it is not as if we have another army in our back pocket to improve the situation. It is quite clear to the American people that what we are doing in Iraq is not working. Something needs to change! Bush is like the guy with a shot engine and broken transmission convinced that if he adds another quart of oil the car will run as good as new. The American public clearly sees the smoke belching from the engine. We see the transmission in pieces on the ground. “Well, he’s pretty clueless,” is what the American people are thinking. When asked by a pollster, we let him know what a buffoon in allegedly leading our country. According to Harris, Bush’s approval ratings are plummeting even further, to 34%.

Yes, of course it is more of “stay the course”. That is all Bush knows how to do. That is his philosophy in a nutshell. Admit no mistakes. The War in Iraq is just another faith-based initiative. Remember, we are getting rid of “evil”. Terrorists in Iraq, and the governments of Iran and North Korea have nefariously joined forces and created an Axis of Evil out to destroy America, turn us into Muslims or Communists (the lines get kind of blurry) and, oh yes, stomp on cute little bunnies too. That is the kind of people these evildoers are. Consequently, when anyone of consequence dares to disagree with him he has to paint them as actively aiding and abetting terrorists. It is amazing that he does not arrest them as enemy combatants. His buffoonery is no longer humorous. Instead, we see him as the small, naked and pathetic shell of a man that he is.

The arguments for war against Iraq get more and more bizarre. We are told that Bill Clinton thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction too. Hello! Yes, he thought Saddam was a dangerous man and was concerned that Saddam might have had WMDs. Here is the difference: Clinton was way too smart to wage a preemptive war based on conflicting intelligence. But Bush had his ideology to guide him. He was incapable of looking at the evidence impartially. He trusted his guts, not the evidence. Now he is being called to account. Why? Because in the real world people who make decisions about war based on gut feelings encounter this gaping pothole called reality. It was the reality pothole, not evildoers, which resulted in the senseless death of over 2000 of our soldiers and the resulting insurgency in Iraq.

Subconsciously Congress realizes that they have been taken for suckers. The thought is too terrifying to acknowledge, so for most it has not yet surfaced. They voted their fears and biases rather than doing what they should have done: make an informed decision based on debate and a hard look at the evidence. So most of them find themselves trapped between a rock and a hard place. For now, they feel they have no choice but to continue goose-stepping behind the President, even though the President has already goose-stepped off the cliff. It will be clear in retrospect, when so many of them are tossed out of office in 2006 and 2008 that they should have leveled with their constituents. It is much better to plead a mea culpa on their vote for the Iraq war, then work to solve the situation than to march off the cliff with their foolish leader. For in politics in the end it only matters what the voters think on Election Day.

Those who are now castigating Representative Murtha will, within weeks I suspect, be fervently wishing they too had acknowledged the elephant in the room. Those who do something concrete to change the course of our involvement will likely be rewarded by voters. It could be something like calling for staggered troop withdrawals, or setting deadlines for Iraqi troops to assume full responsibility. Whatever it is, it must acknowledge the elephant. For the U.S.S. United States has already hit the iceberg. The hull has been breached. Water has been surging in for some time. In fact, the stern of the ship is already submerged. Those in Congress who are members of the reality-based community are already in the lifeboats. Those in Congress who want to be reelected have two choices: jump in the lifeboats or try to save the ship. Even if saving the ship is likely to be futile, at least they can say they took some action to change the unwinnable current strategy.

However, standing on the deck cheering on Capt. Bush is political folly.

 
The Thinker

The chickens have come home to roost, at last

Occam’s Razor likes to peer into the future. Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I get it wrong. Overall though my ability to prognosticate is good. After all not many like me were predicting prior to our war in Iraq that it would turn into the insurgency that it did.

My timing can be off though. Perhaps I see trends too early. Clearly, after reelecting Bush a year ago Americans are now having buyer’s remorse. Had the election been held even a month later the presidency might well have flipped. However, shortly after last year’s election, I pointed out that Bush had set in motion events that could not be stopped. His comeuppance could not be forever postponed.

Events in 2005 have cascaded into a crescendo of bad news not just for Bush, but also for Republican rule. Bush’s approval ratings have tumbled even further, averaging recently at around 37%. While we will have to wait a year to find out the damage done to the Republican’s hold on Congress, we might get a hint from scattered elections this month that another political earthquake is coming.

One sign that should be very worrisome to Republicans is that Tim Kaine (a Democrat) won the governorship here in reliably red state of Virginia. It took a lot for Democrat Mark Warner to win the governorship in state four years ago. To win he had to convince Virginia voters that he was both a good ol’ boy and was not a liberal.

As governor Warner defied conventional logic and proved that even in a red state voters will support pragmatic taxes increases. Working with minority Democrats in the state assembly and a handful of moderate Republicans he was able to pass a modest half-cent increase in the state sales tax. As a result serious money started flowing into urgently needed transportation projects. In addition Virginia schools were able to receive desperately needed additional aid to keep up with growing population and testing demands. His pragmatic approach found wide support across the state. Arguably Tim Kaine, the former Lieutenant Governor, rode on Warner’s coattails. He won the gubernatorial election by more than five percent against his Republican opponent, Jerry Kilgore. More astonishingly, solidly reliably counties like nearby Loudoun County voted solidly for Kaine. Kilgore’s antitax message rang hollow and seemed shrill. Virginians are returning toward embracing pragmatic government again. Apparently good schools and roads are more important than paying a half a cent more in sales taxes.

Kilgore found that being a Republican was no longer much of a selling card, even in Virginia. He avoided President Bush, who wanted to campaign with him in the state, until the very end. His one campaign appearance with Bush shortly before the election seemed to seal his defeat. Yes, even here in the reliably red state of Virginia, more people disapprove of Bush than approve of him. The result of these elections suggests Bush is now toxic. In addition Republicans are being viewed by voters with jaundiced eyes. Apparently even Republicans can interpret poll number and are sobering up. They realize they may be out of office next year if things don’t change. Consequently we are witnessing serious fractures of the Republican machine in Washington. Despite all the odds, the budget cuts proposed by fiscal conservatives, which targeted the poor by cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, could not win over moderate Republicans. The bill could not even pass by removing the requirement for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This is an amazing denouement for a party that just a couple months ago believed it could ram through congress pretty much anything its leadership wanted.

I do not need to spend much time restating Bush’s problems because most of you keep up on current events. Bush has been carpet bombed since his reelection. From the deepening quagmire in Iraq (for which we have no realistic exit strategy), to his surreal and deadly mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, to skyrocketing gas prices, to fumbled Supreme Court nominations, to indictment against Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scotter” Libby, Bush is more than wounded. He has had limbs blown off.

Americans are in a surly mood. The economy is doing okay, but the benefits are not trickling down to them. For the average American, expenses keep exceeding income. The new expenses are costs we can do little to trim back. As a result the middle class continues to shrink. Many, like my wife who managed to find a new job recently, will work for much less than they made in their last job. While many find their income is down, necessary expenses like health care, gasoline and home heating oil keep skyrocketing. We wonder how much longer the American Dream will be available. And we wonder why we are allowing the dream to slip away. Why did we elect people who did not serve our interests, but instead slavishly served only the interests of those that funded their campaigns? This anxiety is reflected in rather disturbing consumer confidence statistics.

The voters are sobering up. Over the last five years our country has been raped and pillaged by Republicans. What we are witnessing is the intense anger, and even hatred, of those who were disenfranchised. We no longer have a government that even makes a pretense about serving the common good. It serves those who support Bush and the Republican Party and gleefully shafts the rest. Both the president and the Congress are drunk on power. More tax cuts for the rich in a time of soaring budget deficits? Until recently, this was not a problem. Weaken air pollution laws as a response to hurricane relief? Sure, why not? Cry over Terri Schiavo’s brain dead body, but let senior citizens drown to death in New Orleans’ nursing home? Not a problem either. After all, they couldn’t vote and beside they were not one of their kind.

I do not think this situation will improve. I think it will continue to get worse. I hear people say that at 37% approval ratings, Bush has reached his floor. I don’t think so. I think it will go even lower in the months ahead. Bush is now in the rapids and he is losing control of the ship of state. The time is ripe for a change in congressional power, and we should see it in the 2006 elections. It remains to be seen though whether Democrats are savvy enough to fully capitalize on the moment. As I suggested Democrats need a new Contract with America. It is painfully clear at this point what one party Republican rule has delivered misery for the average American. A clear vision for the future should turn the House of Representatives back to its traditional Democratic Majority. With only a third of the seats up for grabs in the Senate in 2006, it is less likely that Democrats can take that chamber too, but it is not outside the bounds of possibility. Bereft of the public trust, Americans have little choice but to embrace an alterative or to suffer through even more disastrous mismanagement of their government.

A stiff wind of pragmatism is beginning to sweep across America again. It will be good to feel it again. It has been sorely missed.

 
The Thinker

Daylight Savings Time: Too Much of a Good Thing?

It is that time again. It is time to rollback our clocks an hour. Standard time resumes for much of the country at 2 AM tonight. I will do my part by gleefully enjoying my extra hour and setting our clocks back an hour before I retire.

Some entries back I pondered the nature of time. Daylight Savings Time attempts to align our body’s natural clock with the increased daylight hours throughout much of the year.

The desirability of Daylight Saving Time seems to increase as your latitude increases. The closer you are to the equator the less the differences in the durations of day and night throughout the year. Hence, the less need for Daylight Saving Time. This is one of the reasons that Hawaii and most of Arizona stay on standard time all year round. Most of the rest of the country begins Daylight Savings Time on the first Sunday of April. It ends on the last Saturday of October.

It used to be that Daylight Savings Time did not begin until the last Sunday in April. In 1986, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 was amended to start Daylight Savings Time beginning the first Sunday in April. This change seemed reasonable to me because in my part of the country the sun was rising around 5:30 AM by mid April.

I would prefer that standard time actually resume a week or two earlier than permitted by the current law. For a couple weeks now, I have been unable to bike to work. It is just too dark and too dangerous, since I have to cross multiple lanes of traffic. I also find myself yawning at work when I arrive around 7:30 AM. On a clear morning, the sun is just coming up; on a cloudy day, it can be 8:30 AM before you can see reasonably well outside.

However, apparently Congress thinks that we cannot have too much Daylight Savings Time. Starting in March 2007, Daylight Savings Time will be extended another four to five weeks, beginning the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November.

Why? Ostensibly, it is about saving energy. Proponents claim that it will save 10,000 barrels of oil per day. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. The math sure looks dubious. What it does do is artificially provide more evening hours of daylight, and that means more time for people to be out shopping in the evenings. In other words, we must all adjust our body clocks in order to make the economy hum just a bit faster!

Humph! I wish Congress had just left well enough alone. What this will mean is that more children will be shuttling off to school unnecessarily in the dark. It will also mean that people like me, who are very sensitive to nature’s natural cycles, will also be getting up needlessly in the dark. As if many of us living around large metropolitan areas were not already rising at 4 or 5 AM to beat the crushing traffic, now we want to exacerbate the problem! All to perhaps marginally push up the profits of slimy retailers like Wal-Mart.

No thanks. This is one law that should be repealed before it takes effect. It is also one law that I suspect will get changed after a few years, because Congress will hear sufficient clamor from citizens. After all, they will not be much affected. Congress does not start its sessions until 9 or 10 AM. There is no reason to mess needlessly like this with the biological clocks of 300 million Americans. It adds unnatural stress and makes some of us feel a bit like vampires. We no longer live in an agrarian society. There is no reason we should needlessly be up with the cows.

There is also a financial impact to the change. Businesses all over the country must adjust their systems to accommodate the change. I hope that for many of them it requires just a simple change to a configuration file. For others, it is a costly change. While not quite as painful as the year 2000 problem, it is still pretty darn annoying. In my agency, for example, we must go in and change a whole lot of old code. We could be doing something productive with our time. Instead, we are wasting thousands of man-hours to comply with the law. (Our system is an old legacy system written in Fortran. However, as long as we are in there, we plan to make it much easier to deal with future changes.)

What is good for business is not always what is best for America. This is another shining example of a good premise insufficiently thought through.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
The Thinker

Bush’s Biggest Mistake

I know what you are thinking: Bush’s biggest mistake was invading Iraq. After all the war has cost at least $250 billion, the lives of over 2000 American soldiers and likely at least 10,000 Iraqi lives. Even the Bush Administration admits the intelligence it used to justify the war was flawed. What could be a bigger mistake than this?

However, this was not Bush’s biggest mistake. In time, it will be clear that his biggest mistake was choosing Dick Cheney as his vice president. By doing so, he opened a Pandora’s Box. He gave the neoconservatives the power and influence they had worked so hard to acquire, but which saner Republicans had steadfastly denied them.

As the CEO President, Bush was content to let others do the thinking for him. He delegated much of his strategic thinking to Dick Cheney. Cheney has the wile that Bush lacked. Cheney was a well connected Washington insider. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, he was someone his father would not have picked. (Bush’s presidential run was primarily an exercise to prove he could out top his Dad.) Because Cheney ran his 2000 election campaign, he was someone Bush felt he knew intimately and trusted. It is now widely understood that Bush values a personal relationship with someone far more than criteria like intelligence or competence. Consequently, we got the odd choice of Harriet Miers as a nominee for justice of the Supreme Court. Yet she had never argued a case in court. In fact, she spent much her time in the White House acting as Bush’s legal secretary. Since Cheney knew he was trusted and knew Bush’s character weaknesses, Cheney positioned himself to exploit them.

It was Dick Cheney who proposed much of Bush’s cabinet, including many of the choices for the people that would form WHIG: the White House Iraq Group. He ensured that neoconservatives were in charge across the key positions in the federal government. The only major exception was Colin Powell, who was picked as Secretary of State. Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense and Paul Wolfowitz as his deputy shared Cheney’s belief in a new world controlled by the power of the United States military. Also sharing his vision was Condoleeza Rice, who became Bush’s National Security Adviser. Except for Powell, there were no dissenting voices on the Iraq invasion that had Bush’s inner ear. Moreover, Cheney was clever enough to make sure that Bush’s relationship with Powell remained superficial. He also ensured that Powell was effectively marginalized in his State Department role. In fact, he moved the levers of power so that agencies like Defense took on many traditional State Department functions. After Powell left office, Rice slid into his spot, giving the neoconservatives complete control of all aspects of foreign policy. Also part of WHIG: I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, indicted today on obstruction of justice, making a false statement and perjury.

If the debacle of the Iraq war were not enough, Cheney (ably assisted by political advisor Karl Rove) quite deliberately and quickly pushed Bush away from the edge of the Republican mainstream into the extreme. Bush’s promise to govern as a compassionate conservative and to consider the opinions of both parties quickly gave way to a different reality: to ruthlessly use the levers of power to reward their friends. The result has been nothing less than the looting of the United States government. All pretense of fiscal responsibility melted away. After all, Dick Cheney reputedly said, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter”. Therefore, no tax cut was too large, and no spending that promoted Republican interests was off the table.

Neoconservatism has now become an unstoppable force that is likely to destroy what is left of this administration. It will also likely return Democrats to power in both Congress and the White House by 2008. For now, the lunatics are still running the asylum. With no credibility left, his ratings in the toilet and his top officials under suspicion or indictment the vultures are circling George W. Bush. It turns out that Bush himself is irrelevant. In fact, he has now been deliberately marginalized. Bush became a means to an end, just another neoconservative and social conservative fair weather friend. Apparently, Bush did not look into their souls with sufficient clarity. Now when Bush has second thoughts and chooses to nominate someone who could turn out to be reasonably mainstream, like Harriet Miers, he will not succeed. By putting his trust in precisely the wrong people, he has allowed himself to be manipulated and has no real way to assert his own authority. All he can do is react and do what his masters tell him to do. The neoconservatives are now in charge both in the White House, and the social conservatives now rule in the Congress. If Bush were to nominate someone that might appear to be mainstream, he would be marginalized even more.

Mission accomplished. Unfortunately, it was not Bush’s mission that was accomplished, it was the neoconservatives desire to control the government and the social conservatives desire to stack the courts with known conservative commodities. Bush was their means to an end. No one will accuse the neoconservatives with not being focused on their ultimate goals. They are myopic about them and ruthless in getting them accomplished. Similarly, social conservatives are also fair weather friends. They are with you as long as you are with them on their issues, otherwise they will lash out and cut you off in a heartbeat.

The neoconservatives’ Achilles Heel is that they have a hard time seeing outside their own jaundiced view of the world. It is supremely ironic that of all the people to bring them down it will be Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel who issued today’s indictment against Scooter Libby. He is likely to issue more indictments in the days and weeks ahead. Appointing a partisan prosecutor, the Democratic equivalent of Ken Starr, simply would not have worked. However, Fitzgerald is a prosecutor without peer: dogged, incredibly intelligent, apolitical yet obsessively fair minded. His part may seem small in the larger picture, but he is to this administration what Eliot Ness was to Al Capone. Interested only in the truth, Fitzgerald is the primary and unintended change agent that will return our government to its people.

It is no wonder that Republicans so fear him. Fitzgerald will give exposure to their cover-ups and their lies. Through him America will finally understand just how egregiously corrupt this administration is and how their pockets have been so thoroughly picked. By exposing the WHIG’s poorly executed and politically naïve attempt to discredit Joe Wilson, he also exposes their whole deceptive network where the ends always justify the means.

As for Bush, his presidency is over. He still has three more years until he leaves office, but he might as well put the “Vacancy” sign on the White House door. So why not spend the rest of his time in office at his Prairie Ranch in Crawford, Texas? For the ultimate irony is that while he permitted those under him to rape our country, he was raped as well. He has been used and abused. He is like the good but naïve wife who refuses to believe that her husband is a wife beater. Nothing remains but the hollow shell of a man with no real friends and no influence. He is a chump, a mere leapfrog.

If there were any real spine in George W. Bush now would be the time for him to instigate a purge. He should purge every neoconservative from his government and appoint mainstream Republicans like Christine Todd Whitman in their place. By doing so, he might yet redeem himself in the eyes of history. However, this will not happen. For Bush has always been an empty shell. He has always been someone’s puppet. He has always been bravado. He clings to his pseudo friends. With no experience in real leadership, there is nothing to do but play the neoconservative game and pretend that he is not being controlled. Yet at least while he is being controlled, he maintains the illusion that what he says still matters. And for Bush, that matters the most.

We can hope that Fitzgerald will eventually fully expose this hydra. In time, Cheney will be exposed as its biggest head and hopefully be shamed into resignation. (Since he holds a constitutional office, the only other way to remove him is through impeachment.) Today’s indictment of Scooter Libby is the first step.

 
The Thinker

New Thinking Needed on Child Support

A comment left on my Red vs. Blue: Myth vs. Reality entry a couple weeks ago got me thinking. Our child support laws and procedures need a major overhaul. They are not working very well.

Scofflaws aside, pretty much all of us would agree that those who choose to have sex that results in a birth should pay for the child’s expenses until their child reaches adulthood. Unfortunately, as the commenter pointed out, things in the child rearing business are rarely simple. It is as easy for a woman to get pregnant through a one-night stand with a man whose name she might not even know as it is to become pregnant by her husband. For some men, thirty seconds between a woman’s thighs may be all it takes to cause another human being to come into existence. In some cases (gang rapes come to mind) it may be impossible to identify the father.

It is very clear that a child should do better on two parents’ income than on one. No question about it: in these United States, it takes a heap of money to raise a child to be a productive member of society. I have one daughter, now age 16. For most of her life, I have been tracking her expenses. Anything I spend on her directly goes into a “Childcare” category in Quicken. To date the total of her expenses is about $50,000. This does not include a variety of investments for her college education. By the time college is finally behind her, the total of her expenses is likely to exceed $150,000. Moreover, these are just the direct costs. I did not include food, shelter, movies, transportation and hosts of other miscellaneous costs.

Luckily, my wife and I are solidly in the upper middle class. I am not sure how I would have provided for her if, say, I had been a minimum wage worker trying to eke out a living working at a Wal-Mart. The current minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is clearly far below the poverty line. (For reasons wholly ideological, Congress does not seem inclined to increase it.) Mere subsistence, let alone child support payments, is problematical for parents earning these wages. The situation is likely not much better at $10 or $15 an hour.

Undoubtedly, there are enormous numbers of deadbeat dads out there. (Likely, there are deadbeat moms too, but they are probably the exception.) Some, like my wife’s father, simply disappeared after the divorce. He never sent my mother in law any child support payments. She effectively raised my wife by herself, which was daunting since she scraped by from one poorly paid job to the next. My wife’s childhood was full of the unwelcome memories of moving frequently from one rented place to another.

Had there been regular child support coming in then her situation should have been quite different. It is hard to say how it would be different, but it is likely she would have had more continuity in her life. She might have had access to some of enriching experiences that were beyond their means, like piano lessons. Fortunately, her mother was resourceful and made the best of a bad situation. She should have done much worse than she did. Needless to say her mother had no money saved for her to go to college. While she was bright enough to get a college scholarship, she never learned the discipline needed to succeed in a real collegiate environment. I am proud to say that she eventually succeeded, just many years later. She was a working adult and mother when, at age 39, she proudly received her bachelor’s degree.

The government does recognize the seriousness of the problem. In my last job, I worked tangentially with the Office of Child Support Enforcement, part of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families. OCSE had the job to assist the states with tracking down deadbeat parents. By comparing withholding forms submitted by employers with the social security database there was the expectation that the government could find these people and get them to pay up.

Despite this, for a scofflaw parent, the odds are only one in five (in 1996) that they will be tracked down and pony up the money. If they are tracked down, it is easy enough for the deadbeat parent move to another state. A national ID card would certainly help, but the idea is anathema to many civil libertarians. Even a national ID card is no guarantee, as many jobs (such as day laborers) pay cash wages.

Fortunately, there are still social programs out there that provide basic aid to needy children. However, since welfare reform became law, assistance has become limited in both amount and duration. The CHIPS program helps children who get the health care that they need. All this government aid, while helpful, still does not address the larger needs of children. Subsidized housing is difficult to acquire and seems to be something that Republicans want to abolish. Day care costs shouldered by working mothers make it difficult for them to also pay the rent, let alone put food on their tables. Our assumption is that working mothers, with some temporary help, will develop the wherewithal to provide for their children. The burden is on them to pressure child support enforcement agencies to find deadbeat fathers.

What more can be done? While everyone seems to want taxes to be as low as possible, I do not think it should be at the expense of our children. If deadbeat parents cannot be found or cannot pay child support, then the government needs to step in and make the payments in lieu of the deadbeat parent. That is not to say that the deadbeat parent should get off the hook. It does mean that no child should be put at a financial disadvantage because of an absentee parent. The government should keep ledger under the deadbeat parent’s name for these payments. The government, when it finds these absentee parents, should press for the collection of back due child support. Tax refunds are already garnished for child support, and wages are garnished too if the parent can be identified. However, other sources of income for the deadbeat parent should also be fair game.

Of course, you cannot get blood out of a stone. If the father simply does not have the money to pay his child support, then the amount may need to eventually be excused. Another possibility is that the government should weigh the costs of helping the parent acquire better paying job skills. If the deadbeat parents had better job skills, perhaps the child support payments could eventually be collected.

Mothers also need to understand that they too bear responsibility. While most assume the parenting duties, which are quite burdensome, they also have a responsibility to behave responsibly in their sex lives. It may sound impractical, but they should have the names and address of anyone they have sex with, not just in case of pregnancy, but in case they contract a sexually transmitted disease. Women who habitually do not do these things must understand the consequences. Perhaps they should be required to use Norplant birth control until they are legally married, or can prove they can financially take care of an additional child.

The bottom line is that the child must be financially insulated from the reality of a deadbeat parent. Society needs to rewrite its rules so that the needs of the child come first. We owe our children nothing less.

 
The Thinker

Red vs. Blue: Myth vs. Reality

This diary on DailyKos got me thinking, and then it sent me Googling. It posits a number of theses, but the general thrust of the arguments is that things are better overall in blue states. It also suggests that the family values so espoused in red states are not as widely practiced in blue states.

Before the 2000 election, no one spoke of red states vs. blue states. For whatever reason during that election the networks showed states that voted for Bush as red on their maps, and states that voted for Gore as blue. Because of the 2004 election, a couple states flipped colors but the map looked largely the same. Blue states covered the northeast, Great Lakes and the West Coast. Red states largely covered the rest of the country. Red state vs. blue state stuck as a national metaphor. Both sides claimed that the values were significantly different between blue and red states. Aside from red states being more likely to be controlled by Republicans, such states emphasize low taxes, religion, individual responsibility and entrepreneurial behavior. Blue states are more likely to be Democratic, tolerant of diversity, secular and progressive in nature.

I decided to spend a couple hours doing some research. I did not have time to do an exhaustive analysis of all the claims made in the diary, but I did find the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which has a variety of social statistics and a convenient engine for generating these statistics by state. I picked statistics that gave me percentages. With states varying in population it made no sense to compare the number of abortions in, say, Nevada with California. By using percentages though, I was able to smooth out the differences between states. Consequently, the statistics I present show all states equally. I believe that a state-by-state comparison, grouped by red and blue states, can be useful for inferring the real values and characteristics of red and blue states.

The engine gave me a nice HTML report, but HTML was not convenient for analysis. I managed to copy the data into a spreadsheet. My analysis was done using MS Excel.

You should know that I am not a statistician. I took a basic course in college where I learned about things like average, mean, medium and standard deviation. I am also aware that one should not read too much into any set of statistics. For example, in the south there are disproportionately more Hispanics and African Americans. Historically they have not done as well in certain fields, like academics, as non-Hispanic whites. I also realize that certain states like Ohio, which were counted as red, split right down the middle in the last election and are more accurately “purple” states. Therefore, it is probably a mistake to read too much into my analysis. Still some of my results were interesting.

Here is a HTML version of my analysis. You are welcome to download the spreadsheet and check my logic. Based on the data and the approach I chose, here are some of the results.

Abortion: In blue states, 22.3% of women aborted their pregnancies. In red states, it was 14.32%. Analysis: Since abortion services are more readily available in blue states I was not surprised to find that more pregnancies were aborted in blue states. So if making abortion difficult is supporting the right to life then red states truly are more “pro life”, or at least more pro the new life.

Out of wedlock births: Women in red states are 1% more likely to have out of wedlock births. Red states have a 4.4% higher pregnancy rate for women age 15-19 than blue states. Analysis: some would infer that teenage women are somewhat “sluttier” in red states. Other reasons that could explain the difference include that teens in red states are less inclined to use birth control, or have a harder time getting a hold of it.

Marriage: If you are a man 20-49 then you are 4.1% more likely to be single in a blue state. Analysis: This is not very surprising; although I doubt gays, flocking to blue states explains the gap. I am surprised that nationally 46% of these men are single.

Education: Men 25-49 in red states are 1.5% more likely not to have earned a high school diploma than in blue states. Analysis: I do not think this margin is statistically significant.

Child Support: Blue states do a better job of collecting child support. (25.2% in blue states vs. 21.1% in red states.) Analysis: Blue states seem to give the problem more focus. What is shocking here is that nationally only about 20% of child support is collected. This is scandalous. I am amazed single mothers are not staging massive protests in Washington. No civilized society should tolerate this.

Poverty: 5.6% more men ages 20-49 live at less than 200% of the national poverty level in red states. For women, the gap is 6.4%. 2.7% more of the women in red states live in poverty in red states than blue states. Analysis: This is probably largely due to socioeconomic factors, but all things being equal it does suggest living in a blue state means you are less likely to be impoverished, perhaps because there is more of a social safety net.

Insurance: Men 15-49 living in red states are 3.5% more likely to be uninsured than in blue states. Women 15-44 in red states are 5% more likely to be uninsured in red states.1.8% more women age 15-44 are covered by Medicaid or SCHIP in blue states than in red. Analysis: This may be cultural. Red states are more likely to embrace a “self reliant” culture.

Sexually transmitted disease: About 3 more men per 100,000 (ages 10 and older) acquire Chlamydia in red states. About 7 more men acquire Gonorrhea. As for syphilis, the difference is about 1.4 men. Analysis: probably statistically irrelevant. There may be a slight cultural bias in red states not to use protection during sex, or more ignorance of the effects of unprotected sex.

If my statistics are meaningful, which they may well not be, then perhaps the following tentative conclusions can be drawn:

  • While “family values” are embraced more in red states, younger people are more inclined to get pregnant out of wedlock in these states. This suggests more “talking the talk” than “walking the walk”.
  • You are less likely to be impoverished and more likely to be insured in blue states.

If I have more time and the inclination, I will look at other sets of statistics.

 

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