Republicans’ Groundhog Budget

If you want to understand the new GOP budget, read the old one. Give money to Republican voters and cut everybody else out.

Old habits die hard. Paul Ryan and the House Republicans have offered up a budget that is almost identical to the one proposed last year – the one that was roundly rejected by voters in November 2012. The most revealing aspect of the proposed budget is that the GOP cares about cutting government spending only when the beneficiaries of said spending do not vote Republican.

The following graph from The Atlantic breaks down the cuts according to major federal expenditures.Ryan Budget Breakdown

Which programs are left alone? Continue reading “Republicans’ Groundhog Budget”

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The Bitter Bluff of Secession

If the secession petitioners actually got their way, they’d be a lot worse off and the rest of us would be a lot better off.

For a brief moment after the recent election, I had hope. Prominent conservatives had publicly admitted that Obamacare is the law of the land (given the electoral results, its repeal could no longer be a priority) and that raising the top marginal income tax rate would not be the end of the world. It seemed as though we might actual have a period of bipartisanship. Some folks just didn’t get the memo.

The White House’s website has a section called We the People which allows people to start online petitions. Any petition that garners more than 25,000 signatures will get an official response from the President. There are currently petitions in all 50 states to secede from the Union due to the “unfortunate” results of the election. Other than Florida, which voted for Obama, every other state that has accumulated the requisit 25,000 signatures (Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina) voted for Romney.

This is yet another case of red state blue state foolishness. The Romney states want to leave? If they did, the rest of the country would be better off (financially at least). With the exception of Texas, every single one of those other states get more from the federal government than they give. These states are the real moochers.

I’ve written before that blue states have been subsidizing red states for years, but thanks to these petitions, this discrepancy has been getting a lot more attention recently. If you didn’t like the links in the previous post, here’s some more in the secession context:

I still have hope that we will have at least a few months of uncomfortable and reluctant bipartisanship. But this whole secession business is nonsense. If a Texan you know wants to secede, tell them to relax. If anyone you know from the confederacy of takers wants to secede, let them know how lucky they are that nobody takes them seriously.

For anyone interested, there’s another petition on the White House’s website, entitled “Deport Everyone That Signed A Petition To Withdraw Their State From The United States Of America“. As of this writing, it has 22,601 signatures and has just over 3 weeks to get the remaining 2,399.

The Electoral College: Affirmative Action for Smaller States

In a previous post, I argued that the Electoral College is unrepresentative, unfair and inaccurate. In another recent post, I argued that affirmative action has come a long way over the past forty years and has outlived its utility.

Today I highlight some common themes expressed in these posts by equating the Electoral College as a form of affirmative action for small states. Our country’s framers were tasked with convincing 13 disparate colonies to form a union. The main hurdle to the Federalist agenda was ensuring small states (eg: Delaware and Rhode Island) that they would not be overpowered by the larger states (eg: Virginia and Massachusetts).

The clearest way in which smaller states were given guarantees of their own limited sovereignty was in the equal representation among states in the US Senate. Although membership to the House of Representatives was agreed to be allocated by population, each state, whether small or large, gets two Senators. This means that today, Wyoming’s 570,000 people have the same Senate representation as California’s 38 million.

Giving small states more power may make sense in Congress, but not in quadrennial national elections.

This overrepresentation makes some sense in the Congress where laws are created. In the complicated mess that is the legislative process, state interests can be clearly defined and it can be difficult for smaller states to fight for their interests – yes, some forms of affirmative action are OK.

The election of the President, however, Continue reading “The Electoral College: Affirmative Action for Smaller States”

Human Development Index among red and blue states

It’s easy to get confused by the endless red-state blue-state rhetoric during this election season (which is to say, the past six years). It’s worthwhile to take a look at how people live across the divide.

In this week’s New Republic, Jonathan Cohn’s Blue States are from Scandinavia, Red States are from Guatemala explores the historical roots of this great American divide. Cohn argues that there are affectively two countries in the United States. In one, government is seen as a mechanism to ensure that as many people as possible have their basic necessities taken care of. This is expensive. In the other “country”, government costs very little and provides very little.

What are the consequences of this divide? As Cohn points out “by nearly every measure, people who live in the blue states are healthier, wealthier, and generally better off than people in the red states…The four states with the highest poverty rates are all red: Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas. And the five states with the lowest poverty rates are all blue. Since it’s difficult to measure “nearly every measure” the next best thing is to look at the American Human Development Index developed by the Social Science Research Council, and inspired by the global HDI commissioned by UNDP. The AHDI takes into consideration things like health, education and overall standard of living.

The following is a list of the states (and DC) with the highest AHDIs and the states with the lowest AHDIs.

American Human Development Index 2010/11
12 Highest 12 Lowest
Connecticut  6.30 
 North Carolina  4.64
Massachusetts  6.24  New Mexico  4.56
Washington, D.C.         6.21  Montana  4.49
New Jersey  6.16  South Carolina         4.36
Maryland  5.96  Tennessee  4.33
New York  5.77  Kentucky  4.23
Minnesota  5.74  Oklahoma  4.15
New Hampshire  5.73  Alabama  4.09
Hawaii  5.73  Louisiana  4.07
Colorado  5.65  Mississippi  3.93
Rhode Island  5.56  Arkansas  3.87
California  5.56  West Virginia  3.85

With the exception of two swing states, every single one of the top AHDI states is blue. There are zero red states at the top – the highest ranked red state is Alaska, coming in at number 17. Continue reading “Human Development Index among red and blue states”

Paul Ryan Is a Liar

No really, he’s a liar. And it may not matter.

After a month of “vacation” from this blog, there is so much I want to write about (Paralympics, space exploration, American craft breweries), but last night, all of that took a back seat to Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

I’m used to politicians exaggerating or stretching the truth, but last night’s exhibition was, in the words of Fox News contributor Sally Kohn, “an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech” – yeah, that’s what a Fox News Contributor had to say. Continue reading “Paul Ryan Is a Liar”

Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 1

Today we begin a three part series on the diversity of beliefs within the Catholic Church and the disconnect that exists between the laity and the clergy. The Catholic church isn’t exactly known for internal dialogue and grassroots efforts to challenge church leadership. The Vatican is seen as being monolithic, authoritative and slow-to-adapt. Recent events show that not only is there dialogue within the church, but also actions bordering on dissent. This week, we’ll take a look at 3 instances of discord within the church that, at least among progressives, offers hope. Today is nun day.

Like most children, I was scared of nuns. They were the authority. As an adult, I view them with more sympathy – more the victims of authority than anything else. What with all the vows of poverty and working directly with the poor while the bishops and cardinals live in sweet pads and have their secret meetings. It turns out nuns are a bit more free thinking than I had assumed.

Last month, the Vatican issued a report expressing serious concerns over the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) – an organization representing more than 80% of the 57,000 Catholic nuns in the US. They were accused of “moving beyond the Church” (encouraging a nonreligious/secular agenda), “policies of corporate dissent” (protesting the Vatican’s view on homosexuality and the ordination of women clergy) and “radical feminism” (no freakin’ clue).

The Vatican feels that American nuns are too liberal – they don’t do enough to condemn abortion and homosexuality. Continue reading “Catholic Clergy, Catholic Laity – Part 1”

Obama Slings Mud – Republicans Offended

Using wartime accomplishments to castigate the opposition is disgusting and unpresidential (except when your own guy does it).

A year after Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy Seals during a raid on a private compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, President Obama’s 2012 campaign released this ad:

If it makes you feel uneasy, you’re not alone. It’s boastful, celebratory and awkward. The ad goes on to suggest that a President Romney would not have  gone after bin Laden. If Obama’s opponents wanted to criticize him for crassness, that would be fine, as long as they weren’t guilty of the same crime on countless occasions earlier.

The entire Fox news machine has come out swinging. As usual, Jon Stewart calls out their hypocrisy by pointing out that “Republicans are unaware that the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex allows people the ability to store and recall past events”.

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There seems to be a total lack of consistency in political language. To say that the discourse is dominated by ideology would suggest that the parties are defending firm ideologies, which I do not believe is the case. Other than the reflexive calls for fewer taxes and more God, most of what is espoused by the mainstream American right seems more like a dramatic battle with trivial roots. Sure they want lower taxes, but more than anything, both parties want their side to win – politics is increasingly becoming a sport.

Few fans have ideological reasons for supporting a particular team. Instead, they rely on random justifications such as place of birth, or favorite color or animal. This is fine for sporting loyalty, but in the political sphere, it makes for senseless conflict, both figuratively and literally. This is nothing new though –  almost 300 years ago Jonathan Swift lampooned this sort of discord in Gulliver’s Travels, in which the nation Lilliput is torn apart by the dispute between Big-Endians and Little-Endians, who fight over which end of the egg to crack.

The platforms of current political factions are so riddled with inconsistencies that I must conclude that they are based on something other than ideology. It’s common to hear that politics has degenerated into a horse race – a 24 hour public relations campaign that never ends. Obama’s ad was a bit much, but the criticisms offered by John McCain, Ed Gillespie and others are no more meaningful than moral critiques of horses.