Category: Politics

Alabama Special Election Results

Jones won! Write-in candidate votes exceed the margin by which he won, but he won. With exit polls indicating that allegations against Moore weren’t a big deciding factor. I’m curious what impact the allegations had on turnout though — the voter didn’t decide their vote based on the allegations, but they either felt it important enough to go vote. They didn’t want to vote for a pedophile *or* a Democrat so stayed home because of Moore’s sexual history. And how much Moore’s “the early 1800’s were great even if slavery was a thing because OUR families stayed together” and poorly obfuscated desire to return to a period when only rich white dudes got to vote drove turnout too.

Jones won’t be sworn in before the recess. Each county has until 22 Dec to certify their results, and some counties don’t have a lot of incentive to hurry that process. The state then has until 03 Jan to certify their results.

Moore On When America Was Great

Moore thinks getting rid of all of the amendments after the 10th would solve a lot of problems.

What’s he got against the 11th (states are immune from legal action from out-of-state citizens)? And I’d think he’d appreciate the 12th (the VP is elected in conjunction with the president instead of having a VP from a different party). Did he really think saying “everything after the 10th” was subtle and people wouldn’t infer that he actually objects to the 13th, 15th, probably 16th, and 19th amendments. Maybe even the 26th.

There’d always been an undercurrent of racism and sexism to “make America great again” … ‘again’ implies there is some previous halcyon period to which we should return. But while Trump teased sexism and racism, he did so while claiming to be the best friend to those he disparaged. Moore didn’t even bother with subterfuge. And it will be interesting how well this blatant racism and sexism serves him in the election. Will he, like Trump, manage to run out ‘the deplorables’ in sufficient numbers to win? Or will otherwise reliably Republican voters in Alabama sit home unwilling to vote for him or a Democrat.

Political Power As A Zero Sum Game

Roy Moore was quoted in the LA Times saying “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”. This willfully ignores families that couldn’t stay together because their children were stolen from them and sold. *Our* families were strong, and who cares about anyone else? It’s the same implication I’d read into Trump’s ‘great again’ slogan. Well, it was great for rich old white dudes, and since I’m a rich old white dude … that’s my definition of great, and screw everyone else.

If people are going to be blatant about their racism, I’d love some honesty to go with their chutzpah. Political and social power are zero-sum. In game theory, zero-sum means that one person’s gain is your loss. And you can only gain by someone else losing. If the game starts with a stack of one hundred one dollar bills, no one can win more than 100$. Divide the money equally and each person gets 50$. Play the game — the only way for you to get 60$ is for your opponent to lose ten bucks. That’s a concrete example — new dollar bills aren’t going to magically appear. But abstract concepts can be zero-sum as well. Any individual only has so much influence, and their vote is only a percentage of all voters. The larger the population of “people who can make decisions and influence society” or “people who can vote” gets, the smaller any individual’s power becomes.

The US population is 326 million plus people (or so says the Census Bureau’s population clock). In 2010, 24% were under 18 – which makes the population at or above the age of majority just over 248 million. That means one person is 0.00000040% of the total adult population. Limit decision makers to white men (31% of the population) and each person’s power (for those who retain power) is tripled. Home ownership rates for whites is like 71.9%, which would mean each person’s power (for those who retain power) is tripled.

Similar story for voting. There were just shy 129 million people who voted in 2016. A Rutgers breakdown of gender/ethicity of reported voters has 47.8 million white men voting. Using the 71.9% home ownership rate, an individual white man’s vote would have a 2.7x increase in impact if only white land owning men could vote.

Some old white land owning dudes think the early 1800’s were great because men in their position weren’t forced to share power with women, non-white people, or poorer white dudes. Some old white land owning dudes think giving up some of *their* power so women/non-white people/poorer people get a say in government and American society was OK because women/non-white people/poorer people deserve some control over the society and political system in which they live. Hell, some rich old white dudes probably think ceding some of their power is OK because they are vastly outnumbered by women/non-white people/poorer people and just didn’t see staying in power as a likely outcome either way, and sharing power was better than all of the women/non-white people/poorer people banding together and deeming rich old white dudes to be non-citizens.

Recognizing Jerusalem

I subscribed to the daily propaganda message from the White House. Some are actually informative, a lot are such over the top propaganda that they’re funny. This one … wow. Trump randomly announced that he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?!

And the objections I see relate to how poorly this plays within the peace process (how neutral is the US if it’s declaring Israel in the right?), how Muslims will react, or how this will foment violence in already volatile regions. But how about how the move violates UN resolutions, and how acting contrary to UN resolutions undermines confidence that the US will follow through on any UN resolutions.

Now I assume Trump is completely unaware of the 70 years of UN resolutions that deem Israel’s use of the city as its capital a violation of international law. Say UN Security Council Resolution 478. I’m sure there are people at the White House who are aware of the city’s history, of the US’s abstentions on votes condemning Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. He knows the popular story, and probably from Israel’s perspective. And he doesn’t care to know more. But this message proves to me that whatever “adults” Trump may manage to retain absolutely cannot control he man. Maybe military staff can prevent the most egregious offensive actions he might take, but no one can stop him from provoking others.

 

Everyone Is An Attorney At Heart?

Alternative Fact: From Trump Jr, attorney client privilege protects a conversation he had with his father because attorneys were present with both parties. Seriously.

Real Fact: FRE Rule 501 makes privilege a little difficult to figure out in federal cases. And privilege may not even apply to Congressional testimony. But considering attorney client privilege in general — Attorney client privilege restricts what the attorney can divulge. A reasonable protection, otherwise people wouldn’t be able to have frank conversations with their attorneys. There is precedent for the witness invoking privilege regarding a conversation they had with their attorney. But that doesn’t mean every utterance a lawyer hears instantaneously becomes top secret information that cannot be disclosed by either party.

First of all, the communication has to be for the purpose of obtaining legal advice. Iffy, but you might be able to sell that. Wanting to understand the legal ramifications of publicizing information.

Having a conversation with ones attorney in the presence of a third party can nullify the privilege. There’s a joint defense privilege which allows parties with common interest in the litigation to share information without waiving privilege. This applies for parties “sharing a common interest in the outcome of a particular claim” [United States v. LeCroy, 348 F. Supp. 2d 375, 381 (2004)]. Common interest in the outcome doesn’t mean “daddy cares what happens to me” or “I was working on daddy’s campaign when I did this”. It means a legal interest. So they’ll need to sell that there’s a joint defense going on (which admits that Trump Sr has some involvement in these events of which he claims ignorance).

Furthermore, there’s an exception to privilege when the communication is itself seeking to commit a crime or fraud. Even if Jr rang up his lawyer to discuss what false narrative should be presented under oath to Congress, that is not privileged communication.

There’s a legal principal that the parade of horrors shouldn’t be considered when adjudicating a case — essentially you need to ignore the ramifications of the order — but if the presence of a lawyer in a conversation makes the conversation privileged, wouldn’t a whole bunch of rich dudes just have a lawyer go with them everywhere?

Net Neutrality And Infrastructure Investments

Ajit Pai claims eliminating net neutrality will spur carriers to invest in network infrastructure. And he’s not exactly wrong – there’s equipment required to QOS traffic to allow companies who have paid access extortion to have their traffic move faster. There’s equipment required to block services for subscribers who haven’t opted to pay for, say, the “Social Media Bundle”. Billing systems will need to be updated, which means more work for developers.

Turning all of the public roadways over to private corporations and allowing them to elect to operate them as free or toll roadways would spur a lot of investment or hiring too. There’s not an automated toll collecting barricade at the end of my street today, or a human toll collector. Imprisoning half a percent of the entire US population spurred a lot of investment and hiring too – new prisons, guards, support staff.

Investment or hiring is not, eo ipso, a boon. Sure it’s great for the company whose products are being purchased. Sure it’s great for the person who just got a job. But for society some impetus for investment and hiring is outright detrimental.

Since Pai has outright stated that he cares naught for public opinion, I am appealing to my members of Congress to enact legislation to enact principals similar to the existing net neutrality regulations. That’s the point of checks and balances in government – the courts could deem the reclassification of Internet providers to be unconstitutional (it isn’t, so not gonna happen). Congress can pass laws changing that which the executive branch needs to enforce. The executive branch can veto the legislative net neutrality bill, but a 2/3 majority in Congress can override the veto. Courts can rule those laws unconstitutional (since the existing regulations have already passed legal challenges, that’s doubtful too).

Paul Ryan’s Cindy

Paul Ryan wants to talk about how his tax bill is going to help this mythical Cindy person. She was invented by the House Ways and Means Committee in a discussion of how awesome their tax bill will be for everyone.

What if Cindy’s employer offers tuition reimbursement? Completing her degree is part of pursuing “her own professional aspirations”. Bummer! Tuition reimbursement is now taxed — so the 5250$ she is given to pay for University is now taxed, so the 711$ savings is now 186$ in tax savings. Still a savings, but not as impressive as the initial story. The budget also cuts moneys to local schools. Does the county reallocate funds from road repair to update text books? Cindy blows out a tire in an unrepaired pothole and that’s where her 186$ in savings goes. Maybe the school cut services instead. Great, she saves 186$ but at the expense of her kids education. Does the state just raise their income taxes? Does the county raise property taxes? Cindy doesn’t own her own home, but rent has to cover property tax expenses. Does her landlord lose money or does the landlord raise Cindy’s rent to cover the new local taxes? Cindy’s public library was going to build out a maker space where her kids could gain familiarity with 3D printing and robotics. Does the county raise taxes to fund the library, or do her kids miss out on this opportunity? Maybe she ends up saving a few hundred dollars a year in taxes, but losing beneficial services. Or maybe she ends up paying 300$ more in rent and is behind a hundred bucks a year.

The committee’s cherry picked scenarios aren’t exactly alternative facts, they’re real facts. But they conveniently omit the larger picture that is an individual’s budget. Not to mention hundreds of other real scenarios where an individual or business ends up paying more in federal taxes under this tax plan. Or, in Cindy’s case, saving money on federal taxes until the extra child tax credit expires and then paying more under the plan.

And none of their scenarios address the likelihood that Cindy will be working for many more years because this debt increasing fiasco of a tax plan will create a situation where we have to save money by enacting something like Ryan’s path to prosperity plan. Which ups the Medicare eligibility age, so individuals who could have retired under the current scheme now need to work just to retain medical benefits.

More Corporate Tax Rate Bullshit

I’m never sure if ‘lower the corporate tax rate’ people are just completely ignorant of how business accounting actually works or just a pack of liars (not mutually exclusive, I know).
 
The idea they promote is that CapEx isn’t deductible like a business’s current expenses – CapEx gets depreciated over a number of years. If I buy a new snazzy machine for my manufacturing plant and pay half a million dollars for it, I actually deduct 100k a year for the next five years. Depreciation calculations are more complicated, but the crux of it is [cost] / [years over which product depreciates]. And there’s a whole table defining depreciation periods.
 
*But* section 179 deductions allow the full cost to be deducted the first year. These deductions have a 500k limit and a spending cap of like 2 mill. The whole thing is more complicated because there are years where bonus depreciation is a thing … but like the “OMG the corporate tax rate is 35%” (on business that have over 18 MILLION a year in taxable income) … “Lowering the corporate tax rate will spur investment” is only *maybe* true for companies talking about multi-million dollar investments. This isn’t something meant to help the small manufacturer. Say my small/medium business that sunk half a mill into a snazzy machine and *didn’t* depreciate it over time. Under Section 179, I deduct the whole equipment purchase this year … which is a bigger savings the *higher* the corporate tax rate happens to be. Thus I’ve got less incentive to invest in new equipment if the tax rate is lowered.
 
Since they’re talking about 35% tax rates, we’re writing tax code to benefit GE (Apple, Amazon, insert your favorite enormous company here) … it isn’t like capital expenditures aren’t written off income AT ALL. Depreciation is spread out over the useful life of the equipment. Computers depreciate over 5 years. Cars and trucks depreciate over 5 years too. Equipment used in the manufacture of musical instruments depreciates over 12 years.
 
What makes investing in large capital expenses more attractive? I’m GigantorGuitarCo and we’re talking two hundred eighty million dollars in receipts and a hundred fifty mil in taxable income. And I buy a six million dollar something-or-other to make guitars. At a 35% corporate tax rate, my tax deduction by depreciating that purchase is 2.1 mil. At the 20% corporate tax rate, I only reduce my taxes by 1.2 mil. And yeah it sucks that I had to outlay six million dollars this year and only got to save 175k on my taxes. But doesn’t it suck *MORE* to spend six mil and only save 100k on my taxes??
 
Now the theory is that lowering the corporate tax rate will leave the companies with more money *to* invest. In this case, GigantorGuitarCo didn’t *have* 6 million dollars and instead spent years using sub-optimal processes because they simply didn’t have the money to invest – regardless of how much they’d be able to save on taxes *by* making that investment. I’m paying 52 million in taxes at 35%, but next year my taxes, at 20%, will be 30 mill. Frees up 22 million dollars, and I use that money to buy a whole bunch of equipment. Honestly, my best case would be that the corporate tax rate was 20% for ONE YEAR. Lets me free up capital to invest in my business, then give me the maximum tax benefit as I depreciate out the equipment.
 
But that’s mathematics without thinking about business. As the CEO of GigantorGuitarCo … wouldn’t I use a loan (business interest is tax deductible too), hire a couple of new tax attorneys, or lose some equity and do a fund raising round to get that six million dollars if the machine was going to provide some huge benefit to my company? And if the machine isn’t going to provide that much benefit … why wouldn’t I take my 22 mil in tax savings and stash it somewhere? Buy the machine when we *need* it, or when tax rates go up and the ROI calculation is different.
 
Sure there are edge cases where lower tax rates will spur investment in the business — *some* CEOs raised their hand when Gary Cohn asked if they planned increased investments when the GOP tax plan passes. [Although these may just be die-hard trickle-down guys who will SAY anything to promote corporate tax cuts] But the entire point of business’s investment (and the rational for depreciating CapEx instead of allowing full cost deduction in the first year) is that the new thing-a-ma-bob adds value to your business. My six million dollar investment makes guitars better/faster/with less human labor, thus increasing my profit margin. Said another way, CapEx is meant to increase employee productivity. Short some dramatic surge in demand … increased productivity means *fewer* employees. Not stellar economic stimulus, that.

Ray Moore

I assume the crux of the support for Moore’s alleged behaviour is consent. Doesn’t explain why anyone would need to trot out virgin births as an example of how OK underage sex is (uhh, *virgin* birth). Doesn’t speak to how non-consensual pussy groping is OK either.

Thing is – consent is a challenging with younger people. I remember *being* a 14-18 year old girl feeling urbane and sophisticated because some older guy was interested in me. Exactly as WaPo put it – “flattering at the time, but troubling as they got older”. Especially when I was older and saw other underage girls expressing the same pride in their relationship. However much some 30-something guy is willing to smile and nod while a young teen prattles on with her deep thoughts, intellectual stimulation was NOT what the guy is after … and it was dismaying to realize, in retrospect, the same logic applied to me.

The entire point of statutory rape is that people under whatever bright-line age of consent exists in the jurisdiction don’t have the wherewithal (i.e. experience with life) to provide consent. Modern society is moving that way — NY enacted resolutions over the summer that move the legal marriage age up to match the consent age: 17 (before that legislation, having the court/parents sign off on a marriage was an end-run around statutory laws). Someone who wants to argue that Moore’s actions were acceptable *because* the kids were OK with it … would they be willing to put forth legislation eliminating both balancing tests and bright-line ages??

The Politics Of Anger

Michael Kruse interviewed people out in Johnstown PA who had voted from Trump last year to see what they think of his performance thus far. Objectively, someone who campaigned on Muslim bans, enormous walls along the Mexican border, bringing back the steel mills, and bringing back coal mining … well, just another politician promising the world and delivering nothing. But these people still love Trump. And would vote for him again. Why?

It seems like voters want someone to be angry along with them. There is no easy solution, there is no painless solution … but no one wants to hear the truth. Or hear hard answers. But someone who obviously lies to them but conveys a story of their own victimization … that’s where they’re voting.