Friday, July 16, 2010

How Old is Too Old?

This was one topic on this morning's "Washington Journal." Robert Byrd was 92 when he died. He was still in the Senate. He was less than healthy. Was he too old? Should he have retired? Should he have been retired? Is age a factor or is it something else?

Maybe it's not age but how long one stays in office. Do we need term limits? Should it be one term in the Senate and two in the House? Or do we already have term limits? Well, voters do vote and vote to reelect. Did the voters in West Virginia feel well served by Byrd at his last election? Remember only about half of potential voters actually get around to voting. What would term limits actually accomplish?

It's odd that when asked about Reps and Senators, a typical reaction is that they are quite lacking and should be voted out of office. Of course that assessment applies to everyone's Rep or Senator, but not their own. Folks think the other guy's pols all suck, but theirs is just dandy. Is it any wonder incumbents get reelected 95% of the time?

So is there a problem? Polls seem to indicate so. Lots of folks seem to be less than happy with the way our elected folks represent us. Is there any way to change what we do? Here's one suggestion. Make all federal elections subject to open primaries. Given some qualifications--signatures, filing fees, etc., all candidates go on one primary ballot. The top two, perhaps three go on to the General Election. We lower the value of incumbency and parties in one act. Maybe we'd see a bit more turnover.

Oh, here's another suggestion, increase the House so there is one Rep for every 50,000 people.

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The Phoenix kidnapping claim - again

One of the cool things about our growing network of state sites is that we have more staffers who can spot the latest exaggerations and falsehoods.

And so it was Ciara O'Rourke, a reporter for PolitiFact Texas, who heard the lieutenant governor of Texas claim that Phoenix was the No. 2 kidnapping capital of the world. Ciara checked it out with everyone from Interpol to the FBI and found there was no evidence that was true.

But in our partisan world, talking points are resilient. Sen. John McCain said it on Meet the Press and now, a radio host in Rhode Island has used a variation of it.

We've debunked them all. But they're a reminder that it's a good idea to check these claims on PolitiFact before you repeat them.

In other news, we've seen a couple of interesting episodes this week where Rep. John Boehner and the White House tried some sleight of hand to make their points. Our staffer Rob Farley showed how White House adviser David Axelrod mixed and matched the stats to make a claim about advanced batteries, and Lou Jacobson found a similar technique by Boehner, who used temporary census employees to inflate the size of the federal workforce. Both earned Half Trues.

A good magician can get away with sleight of hand. But our goal is to catch them and reveal their tricks.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Risk Mitigation

I have been reading about the history of risk and its mitigation. It seems to boil down to knowing that something shitty may happen to something I value. So, I find a way to keep whatever it is from being totally flushed down the toilet. Life insurance is a simple example.

The risk is that I will die, that's shitty. Maybe not to you, but to me and my family it's not desirable. What can I do to mitigate the effects of the risk of my death? I find someone willing to take the bet "I will die this year." We each are making a bet on the probability of the risk actually occurring.

I bet, that is, buy an insurance policy for X dollars. The insurer accepts the wager and agrees that if I win the bet, they will pay my estate Y dollars. My risk, the financial effect of my death, is now mitigated.

If I lose the bet and live, then I will make the same bet the next year since my risk has not changed that much. If the price of the wager is reasonable I am happy and the insurer is happy. My risk has been identified, addressed and mitigated. There are other things I may do to mitigate my risk, like eat right, exercise, see appropriate medical folks and so on. When I look at life the universe and everything, I see all kind of risks in need of lots of mitigation.

What happens when the risk mitigation becomes a game in itself? It seems then to become more a type of casino gambling. Our economy was hosed by excessive mitigation that had little to with addressing risk. Credit Default Swap? Collateralized Debt Obligations?

Hmm, risk and mitigation go together. When properly linked together, it seems to work quite well. When they get unlinked it seems to get a bit messy and dangerous. Okay, risk and mitigation, are they a way of looking at elections?

Are pols and parties doing two things? They tell us about the risks of life and suggest they are the mitigation. If we accept their BS as true, then we agree and vote for them. It they win, we think risk has been mitiagted and we can go about our business until the next election since the risks have been covered. Okay, what about the three groups out there today, Democrats, Republicans, and Teabaggers? What is the risk that each tells us about? What is their mitigation plan?

Think about that a bit. Now, using the same standards you might use to purchase an individual life insurance policy (not a group one) do any of the parties provide sufficient risk assessment and risk mitigation proposals? If you used everyday political BS to protect your business frin various risks how long would last when things do go south?

Would we better off if voters treated politics as risk and risk mitigation? Would we see a bit more fact, more reason abd more logic in our elections and hence our government?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Big is Government

We, through our federal government, have a debt that is probably equal to our Gross Domestic Product. GPD was around $14.6 trillion last year. The budget for 2009 was about $3.5 billion. Hell, it's probably a lot more if everything we spend is actually included. Unfortunately, we borrow a trillion or two a year to do government. This does not seem real healthy if it persists for a long time. A few years is okay, but a decade? What can we do?

Before we try to answer that question, consider how much of our economy is the feds. The feds are over 25% of GDP. Add in other governmental areas, states and locals, and government is 36 - 40% of GDP. Government money is everywhere. It's not all going to employees either. How big is government? Well, count up all the incomes that are generated directly or indirectly by money coming from a government agency. I think the number of "employees" is far larger than most are willing to even consider.

Make an estimate for yourself, what percentage of us are "feds." I think well over 50% depend on government money. I do include Social Security and Medicare as government money. Don't forget, the money is spent by recipients for all kinds of goods and services. The merchants would not make as much if government money was not spent in their establishment. I tried to think of one area of our economy that does not have any government money involved. I gave up. We're all dependent on government cash, in one form or another and to varying extents. Now what can we do about the budget, deficit, and debt?

We can raise taxes and cut spending. Okay who will volunteer their own ox to be gored.

Monday, July 12, 2010

PC Problems

I am having some PC problemss, until resolved, the posts will be scarce to none.