Tuesday, April 29, 2008


You know, it's one thing when a Republican proposes a tax cut that will only help large corporations and hurt the rest of the country. But when a leading Democratic presidential hopeful echoes him, that really just takes the cake. I don't know if she just doesn't understand the economics of supply and demand, fails to understand what this tax will save/cost, or is just being naive, but this is just ridiculous.

At current gas prices, about $3.50 per gallon, the average American will spend $420 for gas over the three months being proposed (1000 miles per month, 25 mpg vehicle). Of that, a total of $7.36 $22.08 (over three months) goes to the government in tax. That isn't even half a tank of gas saved should the tax be revoked for a few months. And that is at current prices; gas is expected to reach $4 per gallon or more by the time this "holiday" is proposed to go into effect. That $7 $22 won't cover a quarter tank of gas. I might be able to get to work and back on that, but I live a mile or two from work.

Then there is what that tax pays for. $7 isn't much for you or me when it comes to gas, but $7 from all of us over those three months is several hundred million dollars that go to maintain roads and bridges. McCain doesn't have any idea of how to make that up, so at least Clinton does improve on that plan by also proposing a "windfall" tax on the gas companies. The thing is, that tax is just going to be passed on to us the consumers in the form of raised gas prices. So, if you're following all this, Clinton is proposing to lower front end gas taxes for three months, but raise taxes on the gas companies that will then raise the cost of gas to compensate.

All of this completely ignores the fact that gas prices are (largely) determined by the amount of gasoline available. Now, I expect that, largely, supplies are being kept lower by these companies in order to help push prices up slightly, but there are a number of things entering into this.

One is the supply of raw oil. Much of this comes to us from the Middle East, where Clinton is doing some saber rattling of her own to match Bush's and McCain's. This heightens the instability in the region and causes crude costs to go up.

Next is refining capacity. This is where, I think, oil corporations are doing the most to keep prices up. Oil companies would like you to think that they aren't being allowed to build new refineries. This is completely untrue. In 25 years, 1975 to 2000, there was one application to the EPA for a permit to build a refinery. There are environmental requirements that must be met to build a new refinery, as well there should be. But there is nothing creating a blanket ban on building new refineries. Instead, oil companies are holding out for a tax break ransom, holding these high gas prices over our heads and threatening to move them higher unless they get paid to make new refineries instead of paying to do it themselves.

I say we don't negotiate with these economic terrorists and instead encourage lower consumption through higher CAFE standards and increased development of alternative energy sources. These are the proposals that Sen. Obama has voted for and supports expansion of.

EDIT: Fixed amount saved in the tax holiday. Originally I had calculated it for only one month.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Welcome Back, Poll Tax

In a number of states, Republican legislatures have been pushing for new voter ID laws that require a government issued photo ID in order to vote. On the surface, this doesn't seem like a bad idea. I mean, you have a drivers license, I have a drivers license, what could go wrong? This is effectively what the Supreme Court just ruled in a case in Indiana.

But look a little deeper and you will see that not only is it an infringement on normal people's right to vote, but also completely ineffective as a vote fraud deterrent.

The biggest issue is the unrealized difficulty in getting these IDs. In order to get a new ID in Indiana (if they follow the same REAL ID rules we here in Missouri do), you need proof of social security number, proof of citizenship, and proof of residence. The first one is usually a social security card, to get a replacement one of these, if you lost (or never had one, say your parents lost it...) it you need to fill out SSA paperwork, get proof of citizenship (see below) and proof of identity (a driver's license...). Already you see the circular nature of these requirements.

Proof of citizenship/age is usually a birth certificate. To get this, you have to get as much information as you can about your birth, send that and a check (price I assume varies by state, usually between $15 and $20) to your state records department and hope they find your records. The difficulty of finding your records depends on the organization of the department, and most importantly of where your parents filed your birth records. If they don't find your record, you are out the fee and up the creek.

Proof of residency is a little bit less onerous, but in some cases much more difficult to get. To prove residence you need one of: utility bill, property tax receipt, bank statement or voter registration card. This is fine if you are living on your own (and have a permanent residence), but if you happen to live in a dorm, with your parents, or are homeless you won't necessarily have anything.

Add to all this the necessity to get to the SSA office and the DMV to file all the paperwork needed, and the cost of the government ID card, you wind up paying $40-$50 to get this information. And the ones that have the most to fight to get these are: elderly, whose paperwork may have long since been lost, if it was filed properly to begin with, and the poor, who have transportation issues, housing issues, and also difficulty getting the paperwork. This implicitly violates the 24th amendment against a poll tax.

Then there is the second sub-issue in that it will be ineffective except as a vote suppression tool. Anyone who works in security knows that a security system is only as strong as it's weakest link. The same holds for this scenario. The ID card you are required to present to vote on its face is pretty secure. It is difficult to forge and very clearly shows who is supposed to own it.

The problem is that all the paperwork required to get one is easily and regularly forged. Illegal immigrants across the country purchase or are given these documents in order to work. Now, instead, all they need to do is forge them, present them to a DMV employee (who won't pay close enough attention to notice a forgery), and walk away looking to all the world a legal voting citizen. This makes the new state IDs inherently flawed from the beginning, but it looks good to the general populace.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pennsylvania Round-up

First of all, let me congratulate Sen. Clinton on a fight successfully fought. She got the double digit win that gives her an excuse to continue what many believe will turn out to be a debacle. Not to steal too much from my wife's secret lover, "I CALLED IT!" (I would run around the office, but people might look at me oddly).

Unfortunately for Hillary, even with this victory her odds just got even slimmer. As I said in that previous post, since Ohio, etc. Clinton needed to win by 65% or better to tie in pledged delegates. Getting 10% less than that has raised that margin to just over 68% (she needs 279 of the remaining 408 pledged to catch up to Obama's total.) If she loses even one of the remaining contests, or even just ties in North Carolina, she will need upwards of 75% in the few contests left.

A counterbalance to this is that Sen. Obama's chances of reaching the 2024 delegates without any new super delegate votes is much slimmer now also. He needs somewhere around 299 of the remaining delegates, 73%. However, the most relevant numbers - popular vote, pledged delegates, total delegates, and contests won - are at the very least mathematically impossible if not completely impossible to overcome.

As for the question I hear time and again "Why can't Obama 'close the deal'?" there are two valid responses. One, turn the question on its head - Why can't Clinton beat this 'rookie' senator from Illinois? Two, really a corollary of the first, Obama has to go against 60 to 40 polls against him in all of these states, he has to compete against 16 or more years of popular inertia Clinton has behind her, and he has to compete against not just Hillary Clinton, but also Bill Clinton and his incumbency and John McCain and the Republican party (which has already realized what the Clintons won't admit). Having to fight against the "silly season politics" coming from all three fronts is a bit much for anyone and it's amazing that he has done as well as he has.

Good luck to both candidates and PLEASE STOP WITH THE NEGATIVE CAMPAIGNS. If you want to criticize the other's policies, that's one thing; give us the strengths of your policies vs. the other's. I could care less about someone who served on the same board for three months, or who was pardoned by a spouse. Talk about your differences on the economy, on health care, on globalization, and the United State's position in the world.

GIVE VOTERS SOMEONE TO VOTE FOR FOR A CHANGE. The only choice I have had since I reached voting age is to vote against someone and pick someone less bad (the reason I didn't even bother voting in 2000). Let's make this election different.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"And I would have gotten away with it too...

... if it weren't for you pesky voters"

Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings pointed me to this comment by Clinton at a fundraiser in February:

We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And they turn out in great numbers. And you know they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them.

Yes Clinton, it's so dismaying that voters are actually voting on issues. And how dare they turn out in droves for elections. I mean, the nerve of those voters.

BTW, Move On never opposed the war in Afghanistan. Now, she could have just been confusing Afghanistan and Iraq, which they did oppose, but that doesn't speak well for her either.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One hour into the debate

The questions thus far have been:

  • Will either of you pledge to take the other as VP?
  • Clinton, do you think Obama is electable?
  • Clinton, are Obama's comments in San Fransisco going to damage him?
  • Obama, are your ties to Rev. Wright a liability?
  • Obama, why don't you wear a flag pin?
  • Clinton, how do you address the trustworthiness issue?
  • Obama, do you think the comments of a former associate (something about bombings, it was the first I had heard of it) reflect on you?

So far, despite these relentless attacks from his opponent and the moderators, only one person has tried to talk about real issues we are facing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

McCain "Economy, shemconomy"

John McCain has released a few of his planned economic policies this week. As reflective of his previous statement "I know a lot less about economics than I do about military issues," these changes will do a lot of harm our economy, especially long term. His policies are - update the tax code to something simpler, but leave the old tax code in place if you would prefer to use it; create a "gas tax holiday" for the entire summer; and offer government backed 30 year mortgages to at risk borrowers, with applications available at the post office.

That last one may be something helpful, he is vague on the details though so I can't say for sure. We do need real help on the mortgage front, but I am wary about the government arbitrarily buying back mortgages. I need to look at this proposal more closely, should more details be released, and compare them with the other candidates' before I can make more detailed remarks.

The gas tax holiday has to be the most ridiculous proposal I have heard in a while. The problem with fuel prices isn't the $0.18 added to unleaded to pay for road repairs. Repairs that are used (or should be) to keep bridges from collapsing for example. This will save the average driver less than the cost of one tank of gas over the three months he is proposing (3 months, 15 gallons per week, $3.50 per gallon). The problem is the $1.00+ hike created by an oil man's war in the Middle East. The instability we created there reduced output and encouraged speculators. Meanwhile, encouraged to "keep spending" here, our consumption has gone up. Bush's unwillingness to push for tougher CAFE standards until Congress just recently acted, plus his unwillingness to encourage funding in new energy sources has also helped raise demand. The last thing we need to deal with $114 oil is an 18 cent per gallon encouragement to use more. What we need is real encouragement to consume less or at the very least, more wisely. We need to stop using oil and natural gas for electricity when infinite (at least for the next several million years) energy is beamed to us 11-13 hours a day. But pushing a policy like that could hurt the Exxon's of the world who are making $41 billion off of $100+ oil.

The change to the tax code has to be almost as idiotic. So now, should his plan go through, not only would we have the convoluted craziness of the current tax code, where someone making billions of dollars can pay less in taxes than his secretary making $30-$50k, but we will also have yet another (lets call it 1040EZ-R) form that may or may not allow us to pay less. In order to figure out which one is the best, we will still have to pay tax professionals hundreds of dollars while the tax code adds five more books. "Americans do not resent paying their rightful share of taxes -- what they do resent is being subjected to thousands of pages of needless and often irrational rules and demands." This is why we will offer one more random form for you to compare with the other arcane rules and demands.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Get Your Priorities Strait

The following is a letter I sent to Obama's campaign last week after hearing that he and McCain both rejected invitations to the Science Debate 2008. Clinton's campaign did not respond at all.

All of the candidates have disappointed me on this, particularly in light of the "Compassion Forum" Obama and Clinton took time for Sunday. The following is what I sent, but the sentiment holds for all the candidates:

I am a signee to the petition for the presidential candidates to participate in a 2008 debate focused on science. As a signee, I received an email today saying that none of the candidates accepted, but also that Sen. Obama actively declined.

Your campaign has consistently been at the forefront on science and technology issues; this is in fact one of the many things that drew me to your candidacy. This is why it greatly confuses me and also disappoints me to see you decline this opportunity to bring science back to the limelight.

Our nation has suffered under a president who doesn't believe in science for the past eight years. It has been eight years of inaction on global warming. We have fallen eight years behind on stem cells advancements. And most importantly we have consistently for the past eight years fallen in international science education levels.

We need a president who will turn this situation around. I believe that you are the candidate to do it - so much so that I am currently a state level delegate for you hoping to become a national delegate from Missouri. Please take the lead on this.

Thank you for your time,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Petraeus/Crocker Testimony

This will probably wind up being a series of posts as there has been a lot said over the past couple days. In this post I am only going to focus on the prepared testimony Petraeus delivered Tuesday (charts here).

Petraeus starts out by pointing out the reduction in deaths in Iraq, at least until this recent renewal of attacks. Unfortunately, due to the compactness of the chart, it's very hard to see where that reduction is other than the overall change. There was a reduction in heavy arms fire (rockets and mortars) as well as sniper and small arms attacks. However, it appears IED and infrastructure attacks are little changed since the surge started (although down from the peak a year ago). There also appears to have been a drop in "ethno-sectarian" deaths.

These numbers, on their surface, make it look like the surge is working. But looking at those charts, his further testimony, and other things going on in Iraq, you begin to see that it isn't so simple.

There are three main causes of this drop in violence nationwide. The one Petraeus talked about the most is the so called "Sons of Iraq." This is an army of over 90,000 mercenaries that we are paying top dollar not to shoot at us. This would be like the city of New York paying the mafia protection money. Except it gets praised in Washington. Even Petraeus shows some hesitancy about this group in his testimony, "[The] transition of Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi Security Forces or other pursuits will require . . . careful monitoring."

The second, and this gets brief mention, is Al-Sadr's cease fire. This started back in August and was meant to last six months, coincidentally the planned duration of the surge. Unfortunately, this has recently ended, and violence is back on the rise. It also appears that Sadr has lost some of his control over these militias, which would make enacting another one of these difficult at best.

Lastly, and this is not talked about during his opening remarks but it is reflected in some of his charts, is the increasing segregation of neighborhoods. Like in Palestine now and Germany ages ago, areas where large numbers of Sunnis live are being walled off and guarded by largely Shiite military and police.

Then he gets to where Bush wants him to go, Iran. He claims that Iran is aiding in these recent attacks while the only proof he gives is that the weapons are Iranian. That would be like claiming Russia or China were involved in attacks because AK-47s were used. Are there weapons and supplies going to the militias from Iran? Probably, but no more so than from Saudi Arabia or Jordan (the home of the former Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader). This claim also dismisses Iran's well noted influence over the current Iraqi prime minister al-Maliki.

He goes on to detail improvements in Iraq's security forces. Thousands of troops and police trained, all in the same facility. Now it may just be my sense of paranoia, but do you really want the civilian police to be an offshoot of the military? He also highlights their contributions to the peace effort by saying that three times more of them have died than American soldiers. Could those numbers be largely reflective of the poorer equipment and training compared to our troops? He says "The number of combat battalions capable of taking the lead in operations, albeit with some Coalition support, has grown," meaning they still can't take the field alone. This is highlighted best in the uprising in Basra, where even now we are still fighting. Oh, but he does give a caveat to that " some of our assessments may be downgraded as a result [of our after action reviews]." So, in other words, this assessment isn't very accurate, huh?

What have we gained? A well funded mercenary force that may turn on us again at any moment, but some of them are in the main military, so it's ok. What do we need to do in Iraq? Don't withdraw forces and give us more money to keep paying them off...

And that is where you will stay

Yesterday, during a question and answer session, McCain was asked whether he would give up his seat in the Senate for his presidential run. The idea was to have the special election to replace him while his name was on the ticket for president to give his successor a better chance, rather than waiting until after the presidential election.

His response, very prescient in my view, was “I will go back and think about it, and think about the scenario that you just described,” adding, “right now my intentions are to remain in the United States Senate.”

Those are my intentions as well.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Let's Hope This Isn't on the President Test

Wow, he bowled a 37, now that's something even I could beat him at...

Update: Looks like Clinton thinks the same and has challenged Obama to a "bowl-off" to get the top placement on the Democratic ticket.