Category Archives: Politics

Stuff that Doesn’t Exist (and Stuff that Does)

First we learn that 49% of the Republicans polled think ACORN stole the election for Obama and we also learn this great fact:

…most Americans don’t have an opinion about [Bowles/Simpson]. 23% support it, 16% oppose it, and 60% say they don’t have a take one way or the other.

The 39% of Americans with an opinion about Bowles/Simpson is only slightly higher than the 25% with one about Panetta/Burns, a mythical Clinton Chief of Staff/former western Republican Senator combo…

So both the long-defunct ACORN and the (as yet)non-existent Panetta/Burns plan weigh heavily on the low-information-voter mind.

Meanwhile, in the department of good cheer, BoingBoing points me to a band called Do Not Foresake Me Oh My Darling that has made a shot-for-shot remake of the classic intro to the The Prisoner.

I’m not in love with the music (the Leonard Cohen cover on their page is not a crime, but I never want to hear it again), but I love the concept of “Episode 1 – Arrival”.

I’d also like to hear a copyright scholar tell me if this is a legitimate derivative work, or a potential copyright violation. It’s clearly too much a labor of love to be a parody.

Posted in 2012 Election, Kultcha, Law: Copyright and DMCA | 4 Comments

Nothing is Ever Simple

Naked Capitalism has more about Why Strike Debt’s Rolling Jubilee Puts Borrowers at Risk. Serious tax stuff. Not only isn’t this simple, but it actually does seem to carry real risks all around.

Previously: Tax Risks in Occupy Wall Street’s Debt Jubilee (11/18/12) and OWS to Buy, Forgive Distressed Consumer Debt (11/08/12)

Posted in 99%, Law: Tax | Leave a comment

Tax Risks in Occupy Wall Street’s Debt Jubilee

I wrote previously of Occupy Wall Street’s plan to buy and forgive distressed consumer debt. A commentator on that post noted that it created a tax issue, and a colleague agreed it was a risk. A fuller treatment of the problem, and some instant revisionist thinking about the ‘Jubilee’ program in general is over at the excellent Naked Capitalism blog, Occupy Wall Street’s Debt Jubilee: A Gimmick with Tax Risk.

Like most of the things they run, well worth a read.

Posted in 99%, Econ & Money, Law: Tax | Leave a comment

The House is the Product of Gerrymandering

A great analysis of the problem by Peter Shane,

Within moments of President Obama’s apparent victory in both popular and electoral votes, Speaker Boehner was claiming that Republicans enjoy their own mandate from the 2012 elections – Republicans kept control of the House. I’m searching in vain for a polite word for this argument.

With unemployment still near 8 per cent and a majority of voters thinking the country is on the wrong track, the Democrats nonetheless not only retained the White House, but increased their majority in the Senate and racked up a string of victories, coast-to-coast, for unmistakably progressive causes and candidates. They won these victories because, in a head to head contest with opposing views, the Democratic or, more generally, the progressive, view proved more appealing.

The reason why the Republicans still have the House is simple: gerrymandering. According to NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, Republicans used their complete control of 17 state governments after the 2010 elections to pack Democrats into fewer “safe” Democratic districts and create 11 additional “likely” seats for Republicans – that is, seats where the GOP could be expected to routinely receive 55-60% of the vote in a two-party contest.

–Peter Shane, The Two-Mandate Myth: An Ohio View.

Posted in 2012 Election | Leave a comment

OWS to Buy, Forgive Distressed Consumer Debt

This is very cool: The People’s Bailout — Occupy Wall Street plans to buy distressed consumer debt for pennies on the dollar … and then forgive it.

OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it — traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)

This is a simple, powerful way to help folks in need — to free them from heavy debt loads so they can focus on being productive, happy and healthy. As you can see from our test run, the return on investment approaches 30:1. That’s a crazy bargain!

Now, after many consultations with attorneys, the IRS, and our moles in the debt-brokerage world, we are ready to take the Rolling Jubilee program LIVE and NATIONWIDE, buying debt in communities that have been struggling during the recession.

As Rafe Colburn says “Incredible example of hacking the system for positive change.”

Posted in 99%, Econ & Money | 15 Comments

2/3 of A Giant Liberal Victory

From here the election results look like two thirds of a large liberal victory: the Presidency, the Senate, but not the House.

President Obama was re-elected by a thin popular vote margin, and a more substantial electoral vote margin, only because he campaigned as a progressive — even when this was somewhat at odds with how he governed. The keys to victory — besides superior organization and a creepy opponent who proved easy to demonize — were running on progressive issues: keeping his health care plan, the auto bailout, a new changed policy that stopped rounding up and deporting large groups of immigrants, equal pay for women, equal rights for gays.

The size of the numerical swing towards the Democrats in the Senate is unclear as I write this, but even if Democrats gained only one seat, they defeated a piggish group of candidates who ran against abortion even in cases of rape, and some of whom questioned the right to contraception. While Romney and some other Republicans tried to distance themselves from the most extreme statements about abortion, they did not repudiate the candidates or did so only briefly. And no one stepped forward on the contraception issue to say that members of their party were insane to try to turn the clock back to the 1950s or before. But the voters in at least four and perhaps six states repudiated the right-wing zealots who came through Republican primaries that skewed them further right than any time since 1964.

More importantly, the new Democratic Senators are in almost all cases a substantial upgrade on their predecessors. They will be strong voices, intellectual voices, for progressive policies; Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin will be stars. And Sen. Warren in particular will play the outside game, and rally constituencies outside the Senate.

Meanwhile at the state initiative level, liberals won victories that are simply historic: at least two states, Maine and Maryland, adopted same-sex marriage by plebiscite. [UPDATE: make that THREE states: Maryland, Maine, and Washington. And Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana.

Here in Florida we defeated all of the most horrible state constitutional amendments. The three which passed are all about helping those who cannot help themselves: low-income seniors, disabled veterans and spouses of military deceased military personnel and first responders. This is, in the main, a liberal position even if the means chosen, tax-related constitutional amendment, was not one that liberals tend to like. (That voters rejected all the really evil state constitutional amendments and soundly voted to retain all three of our excellent Supreme Court Justices would be enough to restore faith in democracy if only we could run the elections better.)

Only the House, which remains largely unchanged stops one from claiming this election as a liberal route of reactionary forces, even though Florida elected Joe Garcia and also liberal firebrand Alan Grayson.

The House will again be led by a foolish man who does not command the loyalty of his troops. Speaker John Boehner remains the Yasser Arafat of his party: a weak leader who dares not stop the corruption in his own ranks (Exhibit A: so-called zero-tolerance had nothing to say about David Rivera), and who cannot deliver his troops for any agreement he might be tempted to reach.

Perhaps that is just as well. President Obama has signaled too often his desire to strike a so-called ‘Grand Bargain’ (or Great Betrayal as some call it) that would undermine the buying power of social security payments for people who live too long, and raise the retirement age beyond the capacity of many workers in physical trades or even retail. That fight begins today.

Posted in 2012 Election | 1 Comment

Wasted Time in Line for Early Voting Cost Floridians up to $190 Million

The question is: What was the cost to the State of Florida due to the hours and hours spent waiting in line for early voting – delays due to misfeasance or malfeasance by Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida, and the state legislature (proprietor, Republican Party, State of Florida)?

My rough estimates makes it up to $190 million worth of lost time waiting in line — a cost placed on all Floridians because the state government couldn’t (or more likely, consciously chose not to) make decent provisions for early voting. Please check my math — corrections welcomed.

The basic shape of the calculation is pretty easy: we just have to multiply the following three numbers:

Cost = V * N * A

V = Value of an hour of the average Floridian adult’s time
N = Number of early voters
A = Average wait time

Each of these numbers can be estimated with varying degrees of confidence. We won’t require precision – this is back-of-the-envelope stuff, we’re just trying to get the answer right well within an order of magnitude.

Value of an hour of the average Floridian adult’s time

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage in Florida is $19.591

So V=19.592

Number of early voters

There were 4,469,393 early voters of whom 54% voted early in-person making 2,413,472 persons (approx) who had to wait in lines (the rest voted absentee).

So N= 2,413,4723

Average wait time

This is actually the hard one. For the in-person voters, wait times varied enormously by date, time of day, and geography. I know people who voted in an hour; I know people who waited over four hours. When I happened to look, data from Miami-Dade Elections showed various wait time at different polling places ranging from 20 minutes to six hours. Much of the cluster was in the 2-4 hour range though, so I think we should use those as our range. 4

So, A could be anything from 2 to 4; we should calculate the range.

Cost = V * N * A

Cost = 19.59 * 2,413,472 * [2 to 4]

Cost = $94,559,833 – $189,119,665

Rounding, to two significant figures (this is just the back of an envelope, remember) gives us a final cost range of $95 million to $190 million. All because Rick Scott and his gang foisted this giant ballot on us, and instead of making provisions for extra staff and voting times, cut the number of days for early voting.

(Thanks to IP for asking the question.)

  1. You may be thinking that not every hour spent waiting in line came at the expense of work, But in a hypothetical perfect market, workers will value the marginal hour of leisure at the same value as the forgone wages. Hence, for these purposes, we can value an hour of leisure at the same rate as work. []
  2. Yes, but both the leisure hour and the work hour should be valued at the marginal rate. This $19.59 figure is the median rate. The marginal rate is surely different? Well, probably, but we don’t know how – for some folks it’s time and half, for others a low-wage second job, for still others on monthly pay there’s no salary difference at all. I don’t know how to estimate that, or even what the sign is, so I’m going to ignore it. []
  3. What about unemployed people – shouldn’t we value their time (or lost productivity) at zero? Well, yes if we are calculating lost productivity as opposed to the cost to the individuals actually doing the waiting, feel free to knock off 8.7% from the estimate. []
  4. Yes, I’m assuming the rest of the state was the same as here. I’m open to correction if there’s evidence of systematic geographic skew in wait times. []
Posted in 2012 Election, Econ & Money, Florida | Leave a comment