Friday, August 31, 2012

Three Views from the Last Night of the RNC

In our household we actually watch both conventions - not with the airheads of the cable networks but in the unvarnished world of CSPANN.   For me there were three memorable highlights.   (Although I think some of the prep speeches on Romney's business background were helpful.)

#1 - Clint Eastwood - He was funny.   I enjoyed it live, his timing was subtle but good.   But then I heard all the yammering by the cableheads saying he was dottery or that he actually believed Obama was in the chair or other such nonsense.   So this morning I re-looked at the whole eleven and a half minutes - you see a guy getting in some very successful digs.   I think it plays well again and again.  Clint Eastwood is old - but last night he was effective and funny.

#2 - Marco Rubio - Rubio showed himself to be one of the front runners for the next presidential cycle - whenever that comes.   What the week also highlighted was some other clear future national leaders - Nicky Hailey, Susanna Martinez - are both going to do great things.   Those two present a sharp contrast to the likes of either Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Nancy Pelosi.   Rubio was both eloquent and substantive.

#3 - Mitt Romney - Romney had two tasks last night - to make a clear case about who he is as an individual and to make a clear case for change.   He did both quite well.   The President is still pretty well liked on a personal level so any cuts at the him had to be done with care - and Romney made the case that while we may like the person - the incumbent has not lived up to expectations.  But he also made a case for change - not the laundry list of policy proposals that come from most politicians but a better grouping of the differences between the candidate and the incumbent.   The New York Post said this now becomes a battle for the heartland.  And all three pieces play well in those couple of states.

This election is far from decided.  But Romney and his team effectively helped to dispell to of the memes that the democrats have tried to sell - that Romney is a rapacious businessman and Ryan is an ideologue.

As I flipped to the cable networks last night after the speeches - I noticed the same old tired BS from the supposed expert commentators.   At one point I tried to anticipate what David Gergen would say and for a couple of minutes - my words were ahead of his remarks.  The Tsk/Tsk, Tut/Tut crowd are losing market share - that seems to make them even more shrill.   What is unclear is whether the new forms of media including the net and mobile are following or diverging from the commentariat.   One final comment - ratings for this convention were down from four years ago - in part based on the limited coverage that the networks offered.  But two facts came out of the overnights.  First, the Fox viewership was almost larger than the three legacy networks combined.   Second, something close to six percent of the total viewership on the convention had shifted from cable to mobile or the net.   Those trends are huge.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How Do You Judge a Record?

Phil Gramm published some figures in the WSJ this morning which present a pretty stark comparison between the recovery during the Reagan and Obama Administrations.

For six comparisons the results of the first 55 months after the recession are presented.  In each, the Reagan results are significantly better - job creation (almost 8 million versus 4 million more jobs lost), welfare and support payments - in all but Medicaid during the Reagan recovery dependency went down - in all of the categories during Obama - the dependency rate went up (by 71% for what was once called Food Stamps).   Between the beginning of the recession and June of this year median income went down by almost 10%.

None of those numbers gives one much comfort about the next four years.  What Gramm did not add in was the conclusion offered by Ryan last night - we grew the size of government significantly and much of it with borrowed money.   So even if the results were positive we would still have an almost $16 trillion dollar debt to deal with.   (Note for my buddies on the left - that deficit is 16 with 12 zeros after it - as in $16,000,000,000,000.   Put another way our current total Gross Domestic Product is $15,009,000,000,000 - or less than our total debt.)

One other comparison.  The different between the current baseline budget and the Ryan proposed budget is 1.2% - The baseline would grow by 4.3% and the Ryan would grow by 3.1% - that is hardly what anyone would call penurious.

OK, so it wasn't that bad....

Photo from the Rivercats Site
Last night the Rivercats clinched their sixth Pacific Southern Division title.   What we do not know yet is who we will play in the first round of the playoffs.    While the Tacoma Raniers are out of the race there is still a chance that either the Reno Aces or the Colorado Sky Sox could take the other part of the Pacific Division.   The Sky Sox are still three games off the pace with only 5 games left but the 51s have lost two in a row.

This year we get the first two games in each series which are then followed up by three games played at the opponent's field.  So we play here on September 5 and 6 and then go to the Northern Division winner's home field for the last three games.  If we win the Pacific Division they we play the winner of the American Division.   We hold the season against both teams (Reno or Colorado).   Both fields are a bit poppier - that is especially true for Colorado.   We've got the best pitching in the league (.407 ERA) but our batting is in the middle (.276).   The real worry is who the As will pull up from their 40 person roster.

Earlier in the season the player pictured above was hitting poorly with the big club(Jemile Weeks) - but in his assignment back here he has done very well.  There are three or four hitters and pitchers which if they get taken up to the As could change the dynamics of the team.  One final comment, Darren Bush has managed a lot of moves in the roster this year (I think we have more than in any other season) - so that should give us hope.   Playoff seats are available if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A prank or an act of vandalism

My wife has a friend who is left of center and has a car that looks like the one at the left - although with all sorts of political stickers - including an Obama re-election sticker.   Yesterday, when she was parked at Costco - someone put a typed note on her windshield which said - "I thought you would like to know that some deranged person put an Obama sticker on your car - I am sure you are as horrified as I am."

She immediately went into Costco and reported the "vandalism" to the store.

I've always considered bumper stickers as an odd expression of beliefs.   In one sense they are offending my visual space.   But the libertarian in me says live and let live.

But was this an act of "vandalism?"   What nonsense, of course not.   The note was placed under the windshield wiper and not adhered to the car.  It was a joke.

During the 1968 campaign I had a friend who is about 6'6" who when he saw a person with a Wallace sticker on their car at a stop light - would get out of his car go rip off the bumper sticker and go up to the driver and say about what the note said.   The driver of the other car would look at my friend and not say anything because of his size.    I have also had another friend who had a series of gummed labels printed which were posted on people's windshields when they took more than one parking space - the sticker said something to the effect of "Thanks for taking two parking spaces, you idiot."   They were hard to take off and were placed so that it was tough to see to drive.   Both of those actions are a lot more intrusive.

Vandalism by the way is defined as "ruthless destruction or spoiling of anything beautiful or venerable" from my perspective this prank does not rise to that level.   I guess when you spend your life protesting, everything is a slight.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Strangely Disappointing Home Season

The Rivercats ended their regular home season last night losing a game to the Salt Lake Bees by 4-2.   There are lots of things to cheer about in this year's team. Even after losing three in a row the team still has the best record in the PCL.  Our magic number (with eight games remaining) is three.  Early in the season we won a series of games with walk off wins.   Darren Bush, the Cat's manager, had to deal with a huge number of trades, which with the A's in contention are surely not done.   We met some great new players during the season and saw the continued development of some familiar faces.   In one of the games in this series we saw Brandon Hicks hit a no doubt about it grand slam - which is always one of the most exciting events in baseball.

But last night we left 15 runners on base.  (That count jumps to 37 for the last three games.)   We outhit the Bees over the last three games but our hits did not come at the right time.  And then there is that home record - both home and away records are above 500 but the away record - before the last eight games is six games up on the home record.

The Cats travel to Colorado Springs for a four game series and then end the regular season in Salt Lake.  The Reno Aces, who currently lead the Pacific Northern Division have the Fresno Grizzlies and then end up with the Tacoma Raniers.   The Sky Sox, which have a better chance (the magic number for the Aces is 6) to catch the Aces than Las Vegas has to catch us, end the season with Las Vegas, all of their games are at home.   So there are some interesting dynamics at the end of the season between the two divisions that play each other in the first round of the playoffs.

As always happens in the minor leagues, the outcome of the playoffs is heavily dependent on adjustments to the big club.   We could easily lose a couple of our big guns in hitting and some key pitchers.    So we have to just wait to see what the A's decide to do.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Concentric Circles

Moyers and Company is not a show I watch very often - Bill Moyers remains a staunch left of center commentator and I don't find much useful in his stuff.    But this afternoon as I was driving back from a board I worked with on Saturday, I was able to listen to the attached program - called Faith and Politics.   Moyers invited two Catholic activists on the program to discuss their perspectives on the issues in this year's campaign.  They were Sr. Simone Campbell who heads a group called Network, which describes itself as a "Catholic Social Justice Lobby" and Robert Royal who heads something called the Faith and Reason Institute.

On the Institute's home page is the following statement - 

"In his encyclical on Faith and Reason, Pope John Paul II praised the authentic achievements of modern thought, but pointed to a difficult contemporary problem: “reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost its capacity to lift its gaze to the heights…. has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned.”  His lament reflects the condition of all advanced societies: an abundance of wealth and practical means coexists with an extreme poverty of purpose and vision.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington made a similar observation: “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”  For Washington, national morality was also the “spring of popular government.”  American liberty was thus closely allied with faith. Reason and experience affirmed that truth."

They discussed two concepts that are important in Catholic theology - subsidiarity and solidarity.   Sr. Simone has an odd understanding of subsidiarity - from her perspective government is first and foremost the provider of welfare in society.    Thus, from her perspective there is no harm in jumping the minimum wage to $12 per hour (or even $20 at one point).   She seems to be a clone for the Obama arguments about the budget.   Equity only comes from government.

Subsidiarity is, according to the OED a concept that aruges that "a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level."   The word authority is chosen carefully,  notice it does not say a central "government."    Sr. Simone also suggested in her discussion that solidarity applies (which ultimately means a compassion for everyone in society, especially the poor).   Unfortunately, Sr. Simone seems ignorant of the purpose of the movement that gave "solidarity" prominence.   It was about throwing off the yoke of government, in that case communist oppression.

Conceptually, I have always thought of government as a subset of civil society.   We decide to delegate some things to government but the larger controlling instrument in society is not government but civil society.   While this may seem like a small point, it is ultimately a very large one.   Part of my own thinking has been heavily influenced by Catholic teaching about subsidiarity - but part of it has also been influenced by an understanding of the ideas presented in the Federalist - which is about as close to a business plan for our system of government as one can find.   If government creates civil society, then government can abolish it.  And that certainly is not the idea that the founders of the nation offered.

I am not a big fan of the term "social" justice because it has at its base an odd understanding of the term justice.   Social Justice, for those who use the term, cannot be actuated without governmental involvement.  Where is the role for civil institutions - for example, the church, in assuring justice?  And can the church operate without relying on government to arbitrate justice?

Sr. Simone sees the language in Matthew 2:21 is only one sided - "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" - her logic would be that there is no necessary rendering to other places such at God because Caesar takes care of all that.  What twaddle.  But Sr. Simone is convinced that she is correct.  So she is not at all bothered by the rapid increase in the number of food stamp recipients in the last four years, nor or the continuing unemployment problems in the economy.  What does it matter unless the rich truly pay their fair share.   When it is pointed out that the top 10% pay a disproportionate share of their income to taxes and to the support of government - she discerns that is still not enough.   

Robert Royal was more balanced. He understands a difference between civil society and governmental society.   He also made several strong points about the risks of trusting too much in government.  One of the distinguishing marks of American society that has been observed as far back as DeTocqueville - was the American use of civil institutions to solve social problems.   Sr. Simone does not see the inherent perils attached to thinking government is the first avenue for solving societal problems.  When you start with that assumption, important issues like both clauses of the First Amendment become secondary.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The false balance of "false balance"

A few years ago, I began to hear a phrase mostly raised by the left, called "false balance."   On first glance it is an alluring concept.  The argument is made that for some issues, where the facts are known that it would be odd to offer equal coverage to a side which does not have the facts on their side.   For example, if we could find a proponent of 2+2=5, it would be silly to offer them equal time in discussion concepts in addition in a math textbook.   All that has some logic.  

That is until you begin to deal with an issue raised first by Thomas Kuhn in his book called the Structure of Scientific Revolutions.   Kuhn argued that many "facts" build upon each other until someone begins to challenge the conventional orthodoxy.   Think for a moment about living in the time of Galileo.   The "facts" when he first started to deal with whether the Earth was the center or simply part of a universe - were all on one side.  Using the logic of "false balance" the media of the time would simply dismiss his thinking as wrong.   There should be no coverage of this wild idea that the Earth is not at the center of the universe - the science is clear.   Kuhn makes the argument that ultimately progress in science, and indeed in other fields, comes from the outliers.  There is already an almost natural balance on coverage for issues where there is pretty common understanding.  So this extra argument for preventing false balance is unnecessary.

There are two issues where this discussion has been used frequently - Climate Change and Evolution.   Both represent complex theories where a large portion of the scientific community have come down on one side of the issue.   But there are enough anomalies in the data and enough alternative ways to look at the issue - that we should not accept calls to close down alternative points of view.   Does that make me a Creationist?   No, of course not, although many writers on evolution argue that to even express doubts about Darwin is to propose heresy.   Climate Change discussion are even more unsettled.   From a nonscientists perspective, a lot of the discussion seems to be based on a model which one part of the scientific community has bought into but which other parts still continue to want to raise doubts.

There is a second issue here.  As often happens with the left, the idea then gets extended to issues, where while there is a preponderance of opinion or judgment on one side.  As you think about the concept the sillier it becomes.   The President has used this argument frequently.  One column suggests that Obama "has talked about the concept of “false balance” — that reporters should not give equal weight to both sides of an argument when one side is factually incorrect. He frequently cites the coverage of health care and the stimulus package as examples, according to aides familiar with the meetings."   The President is trying to dismiss legitimate criticism of policies.   In the case of both the healthcare and stimulus decision - there is plenty of evidence that the alternative approaches may have yielded better results.   Unfortunately, often what happens is a linkage between the yammering about "false balance" and then a demand to accept only one set of solutions (always involving more government) to solve the problem.   As Bjorn Lomborg has repeatedly pointed out you can buy into ideas like the potential effect of human actions on climate without buying the lock, stock and barrel of cap and trade.

Ultimately, the argument for resisting "false balance" is a call to accept conventional logic or authority.   I can understand why the left would resort to this type of discussion, but I cannot understand why so many people would fall for it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Best Burger in Town

Burgess Brothers Burgers opened yesterday at 2114 Sutterville Road. (Near Sac City College) Without equivocation, they now serve the best burgers in town.

You may know Burgess Brothers from their catering.  They do chili and ribs and burgers at all sorts of events like last year's 9/11 Run in downtown.  For those of us that have had their chili or trip-tip or ribs - we've been waiting with anticipation.

So what makes them special?  The burger is a generous patty, a flavorful bun and all the trimmings and also a choice of a couple of different kinds of sauces.   The rest of the menu - ribs and tri-tip and chili is also good.  You have a choice of fountain drinks.   What amazed me most was the pricing.  My wife and I had two burgers, two drinks and fries for under $15.   Quality and a bargain!

There is a small patio out front and plenty of seating inside.   One other hint about the place - they list two desserts - a Root Beer Float and a Chocolate Chip Cookie with Ice Cream and Chocolate Syrup - if you order what we did you may not have room for the dessert.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Politicians and Tax Returns

A friend, who is also a priest, made the following post on Facebook today: "Reflection: Great leaders never ask their people to do something they, themselves, won't do. That's a nice yardstick to apply to political leaders. If, for example, the deficit is horrendous, a great leader should be willing to sacrifice his/her own vested economic interest for the good of the Country and pay an even greater price than that which others are called to pay. That's called leading."   It got my dander up a bit because there seemed to be a reference to one candidate (Romney) who in the last few days has released that he paid an average rate of 13% on taxes in the last decade.    That got me to look carefully at both candidate's income tax returns for the year of 2010.   You can see them by clicking on the names in the brackets. (Romney  Obama).  I also looked briefly at their 2011 returns.

Here are some interesting things I found from reviewing both returns.   First,  both candidates paid a lot of tax (the President paid a bit more than a quarter of his income to taxes, while Romney paid about 14%).  For Romney his tax payments in 2010 amounted to more than $3 million.  Both made a lot of money - the President made $1.7 million, including his salary as president.  Romney made $21.6 million.   But the structure of their incomes were different - Romney's was primarily from dividends ($4.9 million) and capital gains ($12.5 million).  Obama had a significant portion of his income ($1.4 million) from business income but he still got a lot from his salary as president.  The President, presumably because of his current position where things like housing and transportation are provided, may not have many of the deductions that most people would be able to utilize.

Both were generous in their donations.   Romney gave $1.5 million to his church but also gave $1.5 million in appreciated stock to a foundation which aids families of sick kids.  That amounts to about 14% of his AGI.  Obama gave only cash (almost $250,000), a major portion of that went to one foundation that helps families of veterans.   Obama's percentage is also 14%.   The average for taxpayers in the US is between 2% and 4%.

Romney took no deductions for mortgage interest while the President took just under $50,000.  Romney paid $232,000 in Alternative Minimum Tax, Obama paid none.

Note in 2011 Romney made a bit more than $20 million and paid 15% of his AGI in federal taxes and made donations which equal almost 20% of his AGI.    The President's income declined from 2010 ($789,000 - including $440,000 of business income) and he paid a bit more than 20% in taxes and also made donations which equal about 22% of his income.

There are a couple of issues that we should keep in focus.  First, both candidates make a lot of money and have complex lives AND pay a fair amount of their income to taxes - Romney does not earn a salary so the vast majority of his income comes from two sources (dividends and capital gains) which the current code favors in relation to salary income.  (I might add those things were adopted for sound policy reasons.)   Second, both are extraordinarily generous on charitable contributions.   As opposed to some earlier members of the political class - they seem to understand that charitable support is in addition to governmental support.  Finally, it needs to be repeated that people who earn these amounts of money have both the propensity and the likelihood of having significant variations in their income.  In one sense Romney's is more stable because most of his assets are contained in a series of blind trusts.  In any event the final conclusion I have is more simple.   A lot of the hubbub about income taxes is meant to rile people up not to add light to the discussion.   I am still concerned enough about privacy that I disagree with the dogmatic response of politicians to release all of their tax returns.  From my perspective a better approach would be to have a set of returns of a candidate be submitted to some tax experts who could then supply macro numbers and make judgments about whether the candidate had paid a fair share of taxes.   Oh, wait, we have that with the IRS already.  When candidates don't follow the law, just like other people, the IRS can (and does) audit them.

Hide the Pea - Shoebox accounting in the 21st Century

California has been a basket case budget-wise for the better part of a decade.   It caused one governor (Gray Davis) to be recalled and has allowed the next two governors to go through an elaborate dance each budget cycle trying to "balance" the budget.    But according to an interesting article from Kevin Yamamura in the Sacramento Bee, the numbers are not the numbers.  His article states that "According to Finance Department data, annual total spending from 1993 to 1999 was slightly lower as a share of California income than in the budget Brown signed in June."   That is very different picture than the one painted by most members of the political class.  The article is well worth the read.

Yamamura's article does not point fingers but tries to explain.  A lot of the complexity has come from convoluted program changes.   Some expenses that were formerly paid out of the General Fund are now paid out of special funds.   For example, some rural fire support is paid through a direct tax on rural residents.   All of that makes sense but at some point it would be helpful to have two things which the current system does not provide - namely a unified revenue picture and a unified expenditure picture.   The article quotes Jason Sisney of the Legislative Analyst office who says it is too complex to allow "easy description" but he goes on to say it is not bad, just complex.    From my view much of the complexity is unnecessary.  Government should attempt to clarify just how much is being collected and spent - from all sources.

In his first term as Governor, Ronald Reagan proposed that state spending be tied to a percentage of gross state product.   The initiative went down in flames but the concept was sound.   How much of our dough have we committed to spending through the state of California?  That could be from income, sales or corporate taxes or from special levies.   When one receives a service from government they rarely ask was this funded from the General Fund or from a special levy - but they are concerned about the quality of the service being delivered.    The complexity may serve the political class but it does not serve the rest of us.

Read more here:

Friday, August 17, 2012


My wife and I saw 2016 - a movie by the guy who produced Schindler's List and Dinesh D'Souza.   The movie puts together a lot of assertions about President Obama's background as well as what might happen if he is elected to a second term.   Much of the substance of the book comes from two sources - Obama's Dream's From My Father and two of D'Souza's books on Obama.

D'Souza argues that Obama is fundamentally responding to the anti-colonialist inclinations of his father.  And through that lens many of the President's proposals make a lot of sense.

I would not call this movie entertaining, for at least two reasons.  First, many of the allegations are pretty well understood, although as D'Souza asserts many of the most important details of the President's life have been understated - for example his relationships with far left of center professors and his close ties to rhetorical extremists like Bill Ayers and Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  D'Souza makes a credible case that many of the traditional media skated away from providing coverage of some of the President's associates.  At the same time D'Souza uses an annoying device in a couple of instances by filming him talking to someone on a cellular phone - and then showing both sides of the conversation.  I thought that was bush league.

But there are some quite interesting parts.   First is the interview with George Obama, the President's half brother in Keyna.  He seems well spoken.    Second, is the segment with David Walker, who is the former Comptroller General.  Walker is a deficit hawk. (Had his own movie on the deficit which never seemed to have taken off.)   Walker points out the risks of the speed at which we have accumulated debt in the last 8-10 years.   At some point, he correctly points out, the problems become harder and harder to solve.

What was also interesting was the crowd.  For a 3PM showing the place was full of people.  What's more the next show looked like it was also sold out.   As people were leaving the theater the atmosphere was not unlike a campaign stop.  The crowd whooped it up.

From a marketing perspective this might be a good thing to get to video quickly.  In our area two theaters are showing the movie.   Distribution would increase if you could download it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cutting through the Rancor

A friend did a post this morning lamenting the rancor early in this election season.   She said in part "this 2012 campaign has reached a low point for the American people. How can we trust either of these candidates? I truly hope the debates are better then these commercials."   I think a lot of people are annoyed at the commercials that we have seen thus far.   I've also been personally bothered by the low points of comments like the one the Vice President offered yesterday to a predominantly Black audience where he claimed that if Romney-Ryan were elected the audience would be "put y'all back in chains."  The President was quick to defend Biden when he said "Most folks know that is just the WWF wrestling part of politics."   Well Mr. President, with all due respect, you should be a bit more respectful of the dignity of politics.   WWF is not where the American political system does its best. 

The reality is that we are not being served by the people who run our candidate's campaigns.   Some of it comes from the amount of money in the system.   While political speech needs to be mostly unfettered there is also a need to keep decency in the public square - and this campaign has not shown much inclination to do that.

That being said, there is a higher principle than just the fashion of being annoyed at the low level of point and counterpoint.    The two candidates for president present fundamentally different views of what America should become.   One would have government take a larger role in our lives.   The other would reduce (certainly not to the levels that I would prefer) the amount of government spending.   In my opinion, one would make a serious attempt to reduce the level of the deficit in the near and long term - the other would not.

Both sides of the spectrum are guilty of smugness.  They cannot believe that an alternative point of view may have been come to sincerely.   I see it more from the left - I've seen friends on that side paint conservatives as evil and deranged - all the while presenting a self satisfied visage that suggests that they have found the Rosetta stone of enlightenment.   Some conservatives also lack the humility to consider other points of view.

But this comes back to two fundamentally different views of society.  We need to suck it up and think carefully about which vision is more likely to bring about the society we want to live in.   I have the unique problem of believing that the country was on the wrong track for more than this administration.   Although I voted for him, (because I thought the alternatives were worse) I watched the eight years of George Bush expand government significantly.   In the end, my patience with both sides is limited.   

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A strong YES on Proposition 32

Collective bargaining for public employees is a noble idea.  Unfortunately, as it has been implemented it is falls far short of nobility.   The November ballot has a proposition which  could bring more balance into the relationships between the public and its employees.    A variation of this type of measure - which prohibits unions (and now corporations) from collecting mandatory political contributions has been on the ballot and failed - but this time the calculus may be different.

California first implemented full collective bargaining in the 1970s but when the state also implemented agency shop - which requires people who work in a particular office to be represented by a union that has been voted in - things began to mutate.  All of a sudden the public employee unions were awash in political cash.

Last year, according to the LA Times the two top lobbyist employers (those who spent the most money in the process) were the California Teacher's Association and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU - the so-called Purple Shirts).

The resulting tradeoff has been devastating.  In collective bargaining in the private sector, unions do indeed have an opportunity to buy stock in the companies they are representing.   But unlike the private sector, public employee unions, through their political contributions, actually get to pick the equivalent of the management team or the board of directors that they will be negotiating with.   Gloria Romero, a former Democrat State Senator said this  "As someone who has been on the political frontlines in Sacramento, I've seen first hand how special interests control the political process. Through their vast resources, special interests are able to hold lawmakers hostage to their agenda. This isn’t a partisan or ideological issue – all Californians deserve elected officials who will work for them, rather than special interests. By tackling the flow of money, Prop 32 would take a serious step in that direction.”   In many local school and community college district races the candidates endorsed (and funded) by the CTA are most often the winners.   Thus, the unions get to pick who they will negotiate with.

If something similar has gone down a couple of times before, why would this measure have a better chance?  (Note in this race spending on the no side  is likely to  run, in part from all those involuntary contributions, at a six to one rate against the proposition.)   There are at least three reasons.

First, public employee pensions.   The ability of the public employee unions to get inside deals on issues like pensions is well documented and finally well understood.   The supporters of the programs claim that pensions are "modest" but the facts are different.   California became one of the first in the nation to allow a "top one" rule for determining pension benefits.  Thus, an employee can base pension benefits on the highest year of compensation rather than on the top or last three.  This has helped to spike pension benefits.   At the same time, when the stock market was rising, the unions encouraged lawmakers to suspend pension contributions for a couple of years.  One estimate suggests that public employee pensions are underfunded by as much as $20,000 per capita in the state.    Several of the cities that have declared bankruptcy in the state have claimed that a major portion of their fiscal distress comes from pension obligations.   In many cities funding current and future pension obligations amounts to a major portion of the budget.   Much of the spike in pensions came after the unions were funneled with all that cash.

Second, a perception that many public employees are over-paid.  The last few years have been rough on public employees.   The nonsense started by the former governor of using furloughs to tide us through budget deficits has declined the efficiency of the workforce and lowered employee pay and morale.   Even with that many Californians believe that the expectation for performance in public employee jobs is almost nonexistent.   That may be unfair.   As noted here I have been very pleased with my encounters in renewing my drivers license and getting a fishing license.

Third, is the perception that many of the public unions, as explained by Senator Romero, are impediments to reliable change.  There is a strong perception among many parents that schools are not working well in many places.   The contracting procedures for public projects, like the addition to the Bay Bridge in Northern California, are byzantine and overly expensive.

Existing law allows employees who do not like the political priorities of their unions to opt out.  The unions claim that few have.   There are two realities here.  First, many unions have made the opt out procedure difficult.    At the same time, some unions have claimed that for those who opt out, the "representation fee" equals what the employee would have paid absent opting out.  

The democrats in the legislature contrived to put this measure on the November ballot, in which they hoped that there would be a larger turnout of voters and presumably a more liberal electorate.   But even that twist may turn.   California is not expected to have anything approaching an exciting event on the ballot.   There are three tax initiatives (which I will write about later) and a couple of other measures are the fare for initiatives.  California has a death penalty repeal - but after the tragedy in Colorado that is likely to go down.   And the most accurate polling on the presidential race is that Obama leads in the state by secure double digit margins.    Early polling showed Proposition 32 ahead 60% to 28.9% (notice that there are few undecideds).   The influx of huge amounts of public employee union donations could turn that tide before November.

If 32 passes, that won't mean an end to public employee bargaining.  Indeed, what will change now is that employees will be required to "opt in" to political contributions rather than "opt out."  But it will mean two things.  First, the discretionary political funds of public employee unions will be diminished.  Second, some members of the legislature may now be able to view a lot of issues with a less jaundiced eye.   Like the open primary law, the effects will not be immediate but they could be very positive for a more responsive government in the longer term.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Paranoia in Politics

An acquaintance in Berkeley - who is a very left of center lawyer, and probably puts more posts on Facebook than any three human beings - put a post on his page this morning which said simply "Be afraid. Be very afraid." and then linked to one of the first several New York Times screeds on the selection of Paul Ryan.   The Times yammers 

"Most voters know little about Mr. Ryan. Those who have heard of him are probably most familiar with his Medicare plan, which would turn the program into a voucher system that would pay beneficiaries a fixed amount for their medical care, leaving them on their own if the voucher did not cover their costs."   Just to set the record straight - the Ryan Medicare Plan is actually the Ryan-Wyden (as in Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon) Plan
A more objective analysis of the plan suggests that "Seniors would be able to choose between traditional fee-for-service Medicare (FFS) and various private healthcare plans on a newly established, regulated Medicare Exchange, similar in structure to those created by the ACA. In each region, healthcare plans would be paid based on the cost of the second-least expensive approved private plan or FFS, whichever is less costly, risk-adjusted for the health status of their enrollees. The cost of this plan would establish the “benchmark” government payment in each locality. Therefore, the amount that the government contributes would be tied to the cost of health care in a given area.
Beneficiaries who choose to enroll in a plan that is more expensive than the benchmark – even if that plan is FFS – would be required to pay the incremental additional cost. A beneficiary who enrolls in the least-expensive approved plan would be rebated the full difference in cost from the benchmark."

In essence, what the plan does is a) protect Medicare as we know it and b) then introduce, for those who want it, an element of choice.

What bothers me about the state of the left at this point, is the extreme rhetoric about what might happen if we took a slightly different path.

Here is another whopper from the Times - "As House Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan drew a blueprint for a government that would be absent when people needed it the most. Medicaid, food stamps, and other vital programs would be offloaded to the states, but the states would not be given the resources to run them. The federal government simply would not be there to help the unemployed who need job training, or struggling students who seek college educations. Washington would be unable to respond when a city cannot properly treat its sewage, or when the poor and uninsured overload emergency rooms as clinics close."

Here is what Erskine Bowles (Democrat of North Carolina and at one point Clinton's Chief of Staff said about Ryan's budget plan.  

The bottom line is that both sides (although in my opinion the Dems are more guilty that the GOP) have engaged in a bit of expansionist rhetoric.   We've got to separate partisan rants like the editorials of the New York Times - from reality.   But the real debate and discussion in this election should be on how to reduce the huge deficits and additions to the national debt that have been created over the last decade.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paul Ryan for VP - A great choice

Governor Romney's choice of Paul Ryan is a home run pick.   Almost immediately, the Obama people tried to paint him as someone who would end Medicare.    Expect  that they will continue their negative and false attacks.

Here are some reasons why this is a great choice -

1) Ryan has made a career in his seven terms in congress of being focused on ideas not attacks.   That will be in stark contrast to the attack dog mode of the Obama campaign.  Political insiders believe that constant attacks always win.   Ryan has proven in seven terms that ideas do count in politics.  Conventional wisdom may be wrong here.   A key feature of the Campaign (reviewed last night) was how idiotic campaign discussions have become.  Ryan has the possibility of helping to elevate the level of campaign discussion.

2) He is popular in Wisconsin.   The RCP polling puts Obama up by 5.4% but keeps the state in a toss-up range. This could move those numbers a bit.  He also probably helps in Iowa where the numbers are even closer.   Combined that  is 16 electoral votes.   He should also play well in Ohio where the 18 electoral votes are also in the toss-up category.    What is more, from the current view he does not diminish prospects in any state.

3) It will focus the fall discussions for the election where they should be - on the economy and the budget.   That is not a place that the Obama team would like to be.   Most polling suggests voters are grumpy on issues like direction of the country and unemployment numbers. (Which most voters understand understate the problems)  The Obama team has tried to plant the meme that Romney is trying to regress to standards that did not work in the past.   And that may be successful.   But the contrast between the tired "we won't talk about entitlements and all we want to do is tax the rich"(Which the Obama team has been running hard on) may be even more stark.

4) He is articulate.   The contrast with Vice President Malaprop will be stark.

5) He can run as someone who is experienced yet not a part of the Washington establishment.   The negatives on DC at this point are very high.  Biden and Obama look like the poster children for the establishment.   Add to that the general malaise about growing Washington encroachment into our lives and the choice will be clear for many voters.

6) This move energizes the base.   For those who had reservations about Romney - those will be reduced or eliminated.  There is a good chance that this will also invigorate the same voters who broke so heavily toward the GOP in 2010.  So this becomes more like 2010 rather than 2008.  At the same time Romney has helped to move the conservative side of the aisle to focus on economics and government spending not social issues.   That is good for the long term health of the party.   At the same time if Romney is unsuccessful, the GOP will have a bright light for the next presidential cycle.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A very funny movie

Tonight we saw The Campaign on its opening day.   It is a very funny movie, for adults.  Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrill play off each other well.  The supporting cast also adds to the fun.   The script has a couple of what some people might judge as flaws - there are some cliches (the Motch Brothers are the villains) and there are some scenes and some language in the movie that might prove offensive to some viewers and finally the ending is a bit odd. There are clear references to John Edwards, who as a failed politician is worthy of satire.  The movie pokes fun at the image builders and the vacuous nature of much of political discussion.  But this is still one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time.   Ferrill is the incumbent in the movie and Galifianakis is the challenger.   Dylan McDermott adds some interesting twists to the movie.  

If you want a serious critique of the current state of political campaigns this is not the movie for you.   But if you want a looney look at campaigns taken to the extreme - go see the movie!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Descartes, Woodrow Wilson and America's Future

The Heritage Foundation did a recent retrospective on Woodrow Wilson claiming he was  the first of the progressives/liberals.  Wilson is an interesting figure.  His scholarly work had two characteristics.  First, beginning with Congressional Government (1885) - he was one of the first practicing political scientists. He did what political scientists do today - that is to collect research and analyze it.   Second, throughout his work, he expresses skepticism about whether the Founder's notions were current (then or now).  For example he argues "The legal processes of constitutional change are so slow and cumbersome that we have been constrained to adopt a serviceable framework of fictions which enable us easily to preserve the forms without laboriously obeying the spirit of the Constitution, which will stretch as the nation grows."   Wilson was a product of his time and a good deal of his writing, as well as his political efforts, was based on a strong commitment to Descartesian thinking which argues that logic can conquer almost anything.   Even thinkers on the right believe in logic, but most also recognize that there are inherent human traits that may not be changeable.  The founders argued that a strong constitutional system would make provision for those issues as in "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." (Federalist #51)  Wilson would reject those precautions.

About 20 years ago Vincent Ostrom started a controversy in Public Administration about who the appropriate forefathers were in the field.  Professor Ostrom argued that Madison not Weber should be the founding father of the field.  Weber was much more in the Wilsonian tradition or Wilson was in the Weberian tradition.   I think a lot of the dissents around that book's thesis (one  professor wrote a series of scathing attacks on the thesis in the Public Administration Review - to which Ostrom responded in kind) came back to the same confidence that Wilson exhibited in his writing.   It was a simple standard - "you cannot turn back the clock" and its close corollary "the Constitution is a living document."   The folly of the first is that time is not continuous.   The folly of the second, is that if you carry that idea to its logical conclusion then there is no need for a Constitution or as one conservative wag commented "some would like to have the Constitution written in pencil."

On August 7, John Kessler, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles did a piece called the Crisis of Liberalism which argues that if Obama loses the liberal side of the electorate will be moved to reasses and probably recofigure itself.  Kessler writes "Beyond its bureaucratic shortcomings, however, looms a deeper problem with liberalism's understanding of human nature and the purposes of government, which led it to presume to lead and administer a free society and concoct rights to health care, housing, and a job in the first place. Heightening the contradictions could soon produce a kind of revolution all right, but not the one Obama believes in and anticipates."

I am not sure I would go as far as Kessler but believe that if Obama loses, we might well see the redeployment of the Blue Dog democrats.   The American polity is horrible divided at this point and yet there seems to be an emerging consensus that neither party has recognized.   On the one hand most Americans are skeptical of the ability of government to solve all problems.   They are concerned about bureaucratic and regulatory excess.   On the other, most Americans would extend that principle to personal choices.   On both sets of issues - economic and social - they believe in a limited form of government - much less expansive than their counterparts in Europe or for that matter much less than the line of thinkers that began with Wilson.   Whichever group can put together a coherent vision of those combined notions will have a winning majority in elections for a long time.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Not the Real Adam Smith

As I said in an earlier post, I've never even asked a fast food employee about their sexual orientation - indeed, I've never even asked them about the quality of the catsup.  When I am in a fast food joint it is to purchase food.  But as a result of both sides of the Chick-Fil-A demonstrations last week - one employee (a young Chick Fil A clerk) showed herself to be a consummate professional.   And one former employee of a local medical device company showed himself to be a buffoon, not once but twice.

On August First, a large number of people supported Chick-Fil-A and their CEO who had expressed, on a Baptist media show.  Then a guy named Adam Smith drove up to a drive through window of one of their restaurants and rants at a young employee.   He is now the former CFO of a corporation and was fired for his inappropriate behavior with this young person at a fast food restaurant.   Listen to him rant.   The Company sells "hate filled" sandwiches.

What impressed me the most about this exchange was how this teenager handled herself.  She stated clearly that it was inappropriate for her to interject her feelings about a political issue into serving the public.  Even at whatever age she is, she understands the necessity for separating personal beliefs from business exchanges.

Evidently, Vante - the company that hired Mr. Smith understood that his behavior was inappropriate and in my opinion rightly terminated him.  So he then produced another seven minute rant.   What amazes me about his comments is that not once does he question whether it is appropriate for a senior corporate official to rant at a person in a store where he disagrees with the philosophy of the CEO.   He seems to have no conception of appropriate behavior.    He could not believe how many people disagree with his point of view.    He describes his inappropriate behavior to this young employee as "collateral damage."   

He was fired and he should have been.   I am not sure where he did his degree but logic was probably not a course he took when he was in college.  His company issued the following statement about the incident - (which sounds about right to me) - 
"The actions of Mr. Smith do not reflect our corporate values in any manner. Vante is an equal opportunity company with a diverse workforce, which holds diverse opinions. We respect the right of our employees and all Americans to hold and express their personal opinions, however, we also expect our company officers to behave in a manner commensurate with their position and in a respectful fashion that conveys these values of civility with others." 
Completely unrelated to this story my son posted something the day of what Mike Huckabee called a Chick-Fil-A appreciation day the following message - "I've never seen that many Christians, who lined up at Chick Fil-A today show up to help at a food bank or a homeless shelter - and that is something that Jesus actually asked us to do."

Thursday, August 02, 2012

3000 Miles

My Award
In mid-August of last year we had a friend and his wife come up to see a Rivercats game.  He had a small device called a FitBit - which is a digital pedometer.   I was intrigued with it because it allowed you to track steps each day and to get a pretty good estimate of distance walked and things like calories burned.  I went out and bought one - for about $100.   Each night or even every couple of days you can connect it to a laptop and record your data effortlessly.    Tonight I recorded my 3000th mile using the device.   That is in about 11 months and 20 days.  The thing is easy to use, a bit fragile but for someone like me who is obsessed with data, it is pretty neat.   Since we got our dog I think I have averaged more than 10 miles a day between walking the dog and normal exercise (and, of course, the normal things you do each day.   My biggest one day total was a bit more than 18 miles.

I found that I broke through a couple of the devices- because if you try to attach it to some article of clothing it can break.   At the same time the holder they supply is horrible.   I have been through three of them in a year - it is very easy to catch the thing on a car door or some other thing you interact with and so I have destroyed four of them (I have also broken two of the devices) - durability would be a plus here.

But all in all the Fitbit is pretty slick.  You can compete against others and post to all social media.  The newer model also allows you to figure out how many stairs you have climbed in the day.  Both models also allow you to track sleep - although I have not used it for that.   IN all this is a great product for the money.

One of the best games of the season

Last night the Rivercats came back to Raley Field.  I have not written much about the Cats this season - in part because,although they are leading the league, there has not been a lot to write about.  Earlier in the season they went through a series of walk-off wins.   But last night was against the Memphis Redbirds - which for a long time held first or second in attendance in the PCL.

We scored first with a Grant Green homer in the third - they answered with a single from Adron Chambers.   But then they followed it up with a (no doubt about it) homer by Matt Adams.

But then we came into the eighth.  Daric Barton led off with his seventh homer.   We then went quickly down two outs.   Rosales and Mitchell singled.   Then Cowgill singled to get Rosales across the plate.   And then Josh Donaldson hit a SUD (Stand Up Double) that scored the fifth run.  Donaldson was pumped by the hit.   The hit was so good that one of the Redbirds came over and congratulated him.   We ended up winning 5-2.

Godfrey pitched well but still received a no decision.

The setup for the game was fine - but those two innings (7&8) were just plain exciting.