Why I Worry About Turnout

On the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer just made the point that no matter what the polls say, everything ultimately depends on voter turnout, and that Republicans have been better with turning out their supporters in recent elections.  This really worries me.  I am not registered with a party but I am, philosophically, a liberal.  I believe put those policies are best for America and so I nearly always vote Democratic.  But I must confess that in this election my interests are also personal.

I worry Republican advances in Congress will jeopardize aspects of the new health care law.  Provisions of the law are still coming into effect, so many people don’t realize how beneficial it is. Rollbacks will have minimal impact on me as a resident of Massachusetts, but I spent last year in another state and I can assure you, this system is better. I’m still cleaning up some of the financial mess from an inadequate insurance plan last year.

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Better for the Economy?

It seems like there has suddenly been a proliferation of interviews with voters, especially undecided voter, in the media, especially NPR. One view that I’ve heard repeated with such regularity that it could almost be described as “conventional wisdom” is that a Romney Presidency is likely to be better for the economy than a second Obama term. The argument maintains that Romney has business and management experience of the sort that will help him turn the economy around. There’s only one problem with this bit of conventional wisdom, and that is that is that it doesn’t hold water.

The nature of Romney’s experience does not necessarily qualify him to manage the national economy any better than Obama’s. Romney worked at Bain Capital. Such organizations come in deal to with a company to the greatest profit for investors. The company may be dissolved, broken up, sold off, leveraged, or whatever. Employees, customers, suppliers and everyone else are secondary.

A nation is not a corporation and it is not a business. A nation should be managed for the good of the whole, which means the greatest good of all. Things a government does often will make terrible sense from a purely economic standpoint, but that’s not why we do them. Just saying!

The Banker and the Maid


There is much debate over the benefits of IMF policies in Africa. For both sides see http://tinyurl.com/IMFhardship and http://tinyurl.com/IMFbenefits

International Monetary Fund Managing Director and, before he was charged, likely candidate for the French Presidency, Dominique Strauss-Kahn now sits in a cell on Rikers Island charged with assaulting the maid in his $3,000 a night hotel suite.  How long do you think the maid has to work to earn that?  One BBC report I heard last night said he likely would have been charged a discounted rate of  $800/night.  Still, I pose the same question.

I checked out hotel maid’s salaries in New York City on PayScale.com.  I ran reports with a few different sets of variable.  don’t know how long she has worked at that hotel, whether she has a supervisory role or how that hotel’s pay scale compares with others.  It seems like she might have made something in the neighborhood of $20/hour.  That’s $800 per week, i.e. the reduced rate Strauss-Kahn would have paid for one night!  The per capita Gross Domestic Product of Guinea, the woman’s home country, is $1,000 annually!  Mull that over in your brain for a minute.  If I heard those figures correctly, the room that the Managing Director of the IMF occupies in NYC costs 3 times the Gross Domestic Product of Guinea at full rate.  Fortunately the IMF is fiscally responsible and they insist on a discount rate.  They pay only 80% of Guinea’s GDP for EACH and EVERY night!

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Athletics and Budget Cuts

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I saw an interesting report about the costs of college sports on the PBS program Need to Know tonight. According to the report, the football coach at the University of Alabama earns 6 million a year, more than twice the salary of the nation’s highest paid college president. The Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Connecticut is the highest paid employee in the state. These are both public universities, by the way.

That, alone, is shocking. It is often argued that the sports teams bring in revenue in ticket sales and merchandise licensing, but people buy plenty of merchandise from colleges that don’t play in the big tournaments. It’s also argued the sports teams bring in exposure, but Harvard and Yale don’t field NCAA teams and they seem to have little trouble attracting students. Ultimately, if a potential student has a choice between a really prestigious school that places graduates in great jobs and and a college well known for athletics, I dare say, most would pick the college that offers the better job prospects.

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

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The President is Correct about the Health Care Reform Law

President Barack Obama delivers his state of the union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photograph: Pool/Reuters

In the State of the Union Address tonight, President Barack Obama welcomed serious efforts fix aspects of the new health care law, but rejected efforts to overturn it and start over. He is right. The law is Constitutional and the apocalyptic scenarios regarding its impact on our health care system are absurd.

Most importantly, it is a good law protecting us from abuses by insurance companies and the health care industry. Here are a few of the most interesting provisions, as summarized in an article from Reuters that came out in March when the legislation was passed. I’ve selected some of the provisions that will have the most impact and inserted my comments in parentheses.

Already in effect are the following provisions. See the article for a fuller summary.

  • Insurance companies will be barred from dropping people from coverage when they get sick. Lifetime coverage limits will be eliminated and annual limits are to be restricted. (Note: If you, a friend or family member has every had a chronic condition, or an illness or injury that is difficulty that is expensive to treat, you will really be grateful for this provision.)
  • Insurers will be barred from excluding children for coverage because of pre-existing conditions. (If you’ve ever changed jobs in a state that doesn’t prohibit this, this is good news, too.)
  • Young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ health plans until the age of 26. Many health plans currently drop dependents from coverage when they turn 19 or finish college. (The job market it tough out there! A lot of young people and their worried parents will appreciate this.)…
  • A tax credit becomes available for some small businesses to help provide coverage for workers.
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    Policy ≠ Politics

    President Obama announces the compromise.

    A couple days ago the White House and Congressional Republicans reached a compromise on issues that included extending the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits.  It took a while.  In the press conference announcing the agreement, President Obama commented that the agreement is not what he wanted, but said that Republicans were holding tax cuts for the Middle Class and an unemployment benefits extension “hostage.”  Many in the Democratic base oppose the compromise, seeing it as capitulation rather than compromise, and are resistant to approval.

    Mainstream media has been providing blow by blow coverage of this process.  The tell us which side which wants what but not in a lot of detail and not why.  For the most part they spend their time speculating about the impact that whatever compromise might be reached will have on the 2012 elections.  Then they let party representatives and their surrogates in the punditry argue about what agreements might be better and for the nation and how.

    It’s all very entertaining.  There is drama, conflict, suspense.  Who is winning the skirmish as the pundits argue?  Who will win the battle when the legislation ultimately makes it out of Congress?  Most importantly, who’s likely to win the war in 2012!

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    Don’t Take My Tax Cut! And Get a Job!

    Petition: Tell Congress: Protect Workers, NOT Millionaires!

    Senator Scott Brown made a fiery speech a couple of days ago as he blocked the Senate from considering an extension of unemployment benefits. He said that first we need to find a way to pay for those benefits without raising the deficit. At last report the unemployment rate in this country stands at 9.7% and Brown wants to put their ability to buy groceries, pay their bills, mortgage or rent payments in doubt while Congress turns its attention to the deficit.

    I believe that Washington has finally turned its attention to the deficit in earnest, and that Brown’s theatrics are not necessary.  The report that bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has just been released provides outstanding recommendations for debt reduction. Holding the unemployed hostage during the holiday season is little more than political theater. Brown needed an issue to distinguish himself on, and he chose this. Nice, Senator! Pick on the unemployed. They’re so busy job hunting they won’t be paying much attention!

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    Economists on the Budget Freeze

    Here’s how one economist responded to President Obama’s idea of a spending freeze, which is likely to be a major topic of his State of the Union speech.

    A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback?

    It’s appalling on every level.

    It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

    That economist is Princeton professor Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics.
    I’m not an economist, but it appears to me that that consensus is that a freeze is more or less cosmetic. It will do little to address the long term deficit issues, and is foolish under these economic conditions. Here’s what The Economist, hardly a bastion of liberalism, had to say. Continue reading

    Federal Debt is Not Analagous to Household Debt!

    It’s late and I’m tired, but another TV pundit once again used the example of the family budget to assert that the federal government ought to have to live within its means in exactly the same way that the American family does.  This time it was David Gergen on some PBS or ABC show.  I can’t remember, because I wasn’t really watching.  Someone else had turned it on, and I just heard it.

    I am so sick of this analogy.  It simply doesn’t work for a number of reasons:

    1) It’s based on a false premise.  Most American households carry debt, be it a mortgage, student loans, car payment, credit card debt or something else.  Ideally this is planned and the family can keep up with payments, but far too often that is not the case.  So many people live paycheck to paycheck.
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