Monday, November 17, 2014

Chicago

Today I got to "go to work" in my old hometown of Chicago. I only lived here for a couple years, but it's a city that gets in your blood. I'm not sure if that's because of the freezing wind off the lakefront that seems to blow through your veins, or from the unique grease content within a Chicago hot dog (or perhaps a Portillo's Italian beef sandwich) that clogs up your veins. Either way, if you live here for any length of time, it becomes part of you.

Walking to work in the Loop, you can't help but notice a sense of productivity and commerce that seems almost tangible among the locals. Chicago has always been known as the city that works, the city with broad shoulders, and I think that's a sentiment that spans the economic classes here. Take a stroll down California street in San Francisco's financial district, and you'll see plenty of bankers and barons of industry going about their day, don't get me wrong. San Francisco just has a completely different feel to it though. Sure, it's California, but the "hippie" element is less noticeable among the skyscrapers. It's just more relaxed. When Chicago wakes up every morning, it's got shit to do. I love Lexington and the high quality of life we enjoy there, but there is something to be said for the industriousness of Chicago.

I'm working at the HQ offices of a large consulting firm here; a firm with which my current employer does a lot of business. It's also a firm where I applied to work several times and was politely ignored. So coming to work this morning, in this building, I had a pretty big smirk on my face. Today, you see, they invited me. I'm the presenter. I'm the expert giving advice to their experts. No one in the room knows about this dynamic, but it's caused me to reflect back on all that has passed between now and then. The last time I had a job in this town was 13 years ago. They were a different company, I was a different employee, but Chicago hasn't changed a bit. I love that.


Sunday, November 09, 2014

Is Mitch Really Helping Kentucky?

Now that McConnell will be serving 36 years in the Senate, and the coming 6 as majority leader, I think it's reasonable to expect that he delivers the goods for Kentucky. I mean, a Senators #1 job is to serve his state, right? Can we at least agree on that?

Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's any chance Mitch will actually do that. He will serve himself first, the GOP 2nd (gotta stack the deck for your party in the next election, right?), and the Commonwealth will be a distant 3rd if it's on his list at all. I was wrong once though, and it could feasibly happen again. How will we know?

I propose defining a list of metrics to measure McConnell's next 6 years. Since his party controls Congress for at least the next two years, we can expect great things right? My GOP loyalist friends are already making excuses of course for why Boehner and McConnell will fail to accomplish anything; that Reid will be obstructionist and Obama will veto everything. To this I say, tough shit? Turnabout is fair play? They want it both ways - they claim that the Democratic losses in the midterms mean that the American people strongly support the Republican agenda and are revolting against these socialist Democrats. If that's true, then getting a 2/3 majority to override a Presidential veto is no problem, right? After 30 years in the Senate, even I will give McConnell credit for being a master of parliamentary tactics - you want to tell me he can't out maneuver dopey old Harry Reid?

So what can a Senator do for his home state? Send pork of course, and I'm sure there will be plenty of that. It's easy to track though - he's sent $1.5 Billion home since 2008. Good think Republicans are the fiscally conservative party. Here are the metrics I propose:


  1. Kentucky unemployment relative to other states and trend over time - I think we can all agree that Kentucky needs economic growth, and these first 3 are a pretty standard measures of that.
  2. Kentucky poverty rate relative to other states and trend over time - same as above
  3. Kentucky per capita income relative to other states and trend over time - same as above
  4. Kentucky health relative to other states - McConnell promised to rip out Obamacare root and branch, stating (incorrectly) that Kynect is just a website. If he's going to mess around with our health care, then isn't the health of our citizens a fair metric by which to judge him? 
  5. Number of coal miners in Kentucky - Like #3, this is one Mitch brought on himself as it was a key campaign point of his that he would fight Obama's war on coal and save coal jobs. 
McConnell took office in 1985 when there were 29,000 coal miners in Eastern Kentucky. That number had dropped to 12,000 BEFORE Obama was elected, but yeah, Mitch is totally a champion for coal. It's those obstructionist Democrats who have kept him from taking action on coal for his first 30 years in office. Now that he and Boehner are in charge, look out! We're due for a coal revival any day now! Maybe he'll bring back whale oil too - those fishermen have been out of work since President Polk launched his infamous "war on whale oil" back in 1846!

I'll post a first draft in the coming days.




Saturday, November 08, 2014

How did the GOP just spank the Dems?

Some people would have you believe that there is a simple answer to this: Obama sucks. While I disagree (I'm still rating him "average"), I'm also smart enough to know that sucks is a subjective term. Some people believe he sucks, and will continue to do so. The people who think he sucks weren't going to vote for Democrats anyway, and Obama wasn't on the ballot. This was a big victory for the GOP any way you slice it; even bigger than the RNC expected. Hell, it was even bigger than Nate Silver, my favorite data scientist, expected. So, objectively, what happened? My summary is as follows:

1) The party of the sitting president loses mid terms, that's just a fact. The average loss is 25 House seats and 3 Senate seats (since FDR). Those numbers jump to 30 and 6, respectively, when the sitting president is a lame duck. As of the time I'm writing this, the Dems lost 7 Senate seats, and 12 House seats, so, technically, their losses were favorable (LESS than average).

2) The GOP candidates did an amazing job of saying "my Democratic opponent is basically a mini-Obama," a tactic that clearly worked well with independents. There is strong evidence that they really upped their game in terms of big data analytics-driven messaging.

3) Democrats did a terrible job of distancing themselves from the President.

4) Millenials absolutely don't care enough about politics to vote in mid-terms, which skewed the results towards the GOP. Basically, old, white conservatives showed up to vote.

5) New voter ID laws absolutely discouraged voting, particularly among the young and minorities. This is exactly what the 18 GOP legislatures intended when they passed these laws. If you still think this is about protecting the integrity of the vote rather than about stacking the deck in favor of the GOP, you're stupid. You really think it's a coincidence that ONLY GOP states have passed these laws? Problem is, it's already backfiring on the GOP - these same laws prevented a lot of old people and veterans from voting, who would've voted GOP. The turnout for Presidential races is different, and this will bite them in the ass (either in the courts or in terms of baby boomers unable to vote) eventually.

6) The "war on coal" rhetoric resonated spectacularly well. This is funny, because my GOP friends hate the Dems "war on women" rhetoric. Eisenhower promised equal work for equal pay back in 1956, so I'm sure the GOP will get right to that when McConnell & Boehner take over.

7) The Romney factor - the Dems also picked some really bad challengers. I genuinely believed that Alison Grimes would fight harder for the average Kentuckian than 30 years in DC Mitch McConnell (a list of his top donors all but confirms this), but I also watched her give a speech. She was awful.

Personally, I think that #3 was the wrong strategy, as it played into the hands of the GOP (see point #2). I think a "hell yes, I support the President" strategy would have been far more effective IF they picked the right talking points. He ended Bush's unfunded wars and gave the finger to the health insurance companies - I've been wanting to do that to mine for years. He's also got stances on social issues that true Libertarians have to support (marry whomever you want, YOUR religion has no place in OUR government or MY doctor's office...). He's got a moderate stance on immigration, where the GOP has to pander to its "shoot 'em at the border!" Tea party wing.

College educated, middle-class whites >30 who voted for Obama in 2012 were the biggest demographic that the Dems lost. I'm disappointed in Obama, but guess what, I voted for W twice and he disappointed me too. I still wouldn't go back and vote for the other tools who were on any of those 4 ballots.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Saving Coal Jobs is a Fairy Tale

One of the sad truths about Kentucky, my adopted home state, is that there are a lot of good people here who are poorly educated. There are a lot of historic reasons for that, but two key parts of the history are that:
  1. Coal mine owners have been exploiting the poorest of the poor here for generations. This fact is not in dispute. Hell, they didn't even pay people in actual dollars until the 1950s. Prior to that you were paid in company "scrip" that was only good at the company store. There's a song about that.
  2. For the first 150 years of coal production (1820-1970), state, local, and federal governments sided with mine owners over miners roughly 100% of the time when it came to labor disputes, working conditions etc. (today it's down to about 85%). Take a 1932 Kentucky law that forbid the conversion of scrip into actual cash as an example; I wonder whose idea that was?
Scrip is just one obvious and particularly egregious example. Dangerous working conditions, shooting workers who tried to form unions, dumping toxic waste into water supplies... mine operators are a special kind of shitty, they have been for generations, and they're not changing any time soon. 

For Eastern and Western parts of the state, coal has been the biggest (and often the only) industry that dominated local economies for 200 years. In these far reaches of our state, their whole world has revolved around coal for literally as long as anyone can remember. You maybe graduated high school, but you definitely didn't go to college, because all you needed was a job at the mine and you could raise a family, just like your dad and grandfather did. Critically, you can't talk to the electorate in these regions about the global energy market or the economics of coal extraction because they are, in the truest sense of the word, ignorant. If your only motive is profit and you have zero sense of ethics, can you imagine a better scenario than an ignorant labor force who's entirely dependent on one industry? Me either. No wonder the mine owners ("Friends of Coal") desperately want to maintain the status quo.

Kentucky's coal industry is in decline due to a wacky thing called economics. It's been in decline for 35 years. We lost our spot as the nation's top coal producer 1 year after Mitch McConnell was elected. If you're ignorant and don't trust Obama because he's a black Muslim, the EPA is absolutely to blame for this, what with their pesky regulations about keeping mercury out of the water supply and sulfur dioxide out of the air. That shit ain't bad for you, if you don't understand anything about biology or chemistry and your kid doesn't have asthma yet.
There are cheaper alternatives to coal today for running power plants, and there are other states with coal resources that are MUCH cheaper to extract than Kentucky coal. It's that simple. The US still needs coal, and it has uses other than power plants, but IT AIN'T COMING BACK TO KENTUCKY!!! To suggest that it is, to try and win votes by lying to an ignorant, poor population that has been shit on for generations, is beyond shameful, it's criminal. Both Kentucky candidates for Senate are making this claim, and for Mitch McConnell it's pretty much the backbone of his platform. Mitch has had 30 years in the Senate to reverse this trend, and he hasn't done shit (see chart). Anyone who believes he's got the ability to reverse this trend if we just elect him for 6 more years is stupid. I don't fault poor, ignorant Kentuckians for listening to his pied piper song, they literally don't know any better and they are desperate for better economic times. I do fault my educated friends here and smart people in the rest of Kentucky who should know better. Saving coal jobs is a fairy tale. 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Who's taking away guns? It ain't Obama or the Feds.

Contrary to popular belief, and by popular belief I mean the GOP Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) campaign that precedes every election talking about how whomever the Democratic candidate is has secret plans to repeal the 2nd amendment, Obama has get to take away anyone's guns. When he didn't do this during his first term, the NRA need an explanation. After all, they swore this was his plan. Interesting side note, during his first term, Obama actually expanded expanded the list of places you can carry a gun while simultaneously failing to renew the assault weapons ban. The NRA should recognize this as a home run, but of course they can't give a Democrat credit for anything because they've given dump trucks full of money to the RNC. In fact, Obama has repeatedly stated that "No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society," Sounds pretty logical to me. He proposed no new laws after Sandy Hook. He proposed no new laws after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was gunned down at a speaking event. He proposed no new laws after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. While it's technically impossible for both these statements to be accurate, the Brady project and the NRA branded his first term a failure. That's right, both the gun control nuts and the gun advocacy nuts see him as an enemy of their cause. 

Meanwhile, several states have been adopting what I think are some practical, logical measures that could actually result in seizure of privately owned weapons under extreme circumstances. As state officials across the country grapple with how to prevent mass killings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, some are turning to a gun seizure law pioneered in Connecticut 15 years ago.

Connecticut's law was the first of its kind nationwide and was passed after the killings of four managers at the state lottery headquarters. It allows judges to order guns temporarily seized from people after police show they are a danger to themselves or others.

Indiana approved a similar law in 2005. And now California and New Jersey officials are debating gun seizure laws, both in the aftermath of the killings of six people near the University of California, Santa Barbara, in May. Considering the overlap between the "Obama's a Kenyan Muslim Socialist," the NRA, and the "the Feds need to back off and respect states' rights" crowds, I find this, amusing. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Those pesky poor people

This article grabbed my attention last week. Among other things, it provides a historical perspective on a major topic in American politics today - rich versus poor, makers versus takers, the notion that all poor people (or a full 47% of the country, according to Romney) are freeloaders. Here's another spin on it from my ideology-shifting Senator, Rand Paul. Rand, never far from a conspiracy theory, wants you to believe that the reason Obama is  pushing for a higher minimum wage is as a diversion, to draw attention away from the fact that the middle class is getting screwed these days. Right. A diversion, which implies that the Dems for some reason are trying to hide... what exactly? They just won two presidential elections by appealing to... the middle class who's getting screwed by... the 1% who fund the PACs that fund the GOP.

If you're mad about the number of people getting public assistance, you either have to support raising the minimum wage or admit that you're being completely illogical. 40% of the people on food stamps have jobs that simply don't pay enough to feed a family. The GOP has successfully convinced most of its more mindless followers that the sick and elderly "deserve" assistance yet the working poor do not. If you're sick or old, it's not your fault, but if you're among the working poor or the under-employed, that somehow IS your fault. Doesn't matter that we're in the slowest recovery ever. Doesn't matter that the productivity gains of the American worker since 1970, which are amazing, have gone almost exclusively to the 1%. For me, this is like the Kentucky residents who vote for Mitch McConnell because he's promising to save coal. SAVE COAL?! How, exactly? Why, exactly? If you vote for the GOP because you think they're out to help the middle class by... ah yes, easing taxes on the 1%, because that "trickle down" shit has worked so well for us in the past, you're no different from the ignorant coal fan. 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Continually baffled

Yet another demonstration this week by the GOP that they are:
  • Completely out of touch with popular sentiment
  • Couldn't care less about rebuilding our shrinking middle class
  • Are much more interested in taking symbolic, confrontational stances on issues than actually doing the logical (and moral) thing. 
  • Always going to side with big business over the common man
I've blogged before about the staggering collapse of the middle class. It's a fact, not an opinion. It's not about Obama or W; it's been taking place for over 30 years now. The '08 recession definitely hurt the middle class a lot, but they were in pretty bad shape by '07 anyway. If you care to read about the topic, Carville & Greenberg wrote a great book on it. Are they biased? Hell yes they are. But let's be clear - just because they work for the Dems doesn't make them wrong. They're brilliant, and the book is filled with economic data that is not in dispute; any way you look at it the middle class in this country is not what it once was. Also, it talks about how people rightly don't trust the government today because we all know that money runs politics, which means rich white people and corporations pretty much get the policies they want. I'm a "rich" white guy who works for a big corporation, so through no fault of my own I benefit from a lot of the GOP's bullshit, but I still hate it. I hate that it takes politics away from the people, and I believe a government that works for the elites and the greed of corporations is bad for America, period.

In the current Congress, the GOP has voted AGAINST raising the minimum wage, AGAINST fair pay for women, and FOR cutting food stamps. Are too many people on food stamps? Absolutely. In the richest nation in the world, we should be collectively ashamed that 47,000,000 people can't get the food they need without government assistance. Is there fraud in the program? Absolutely, as is the case with any government program. Let's keep it in perspective though. Let's compare tax fraud by the rich and corporations to "food fraud" by people poor enough to qualify for food stamps. Some interesting facts about the food stamp program:

  • 41% of the people on it have jobs that simply don't pay enough money to feed a family
  • 14% of US families are on it
  • Today, over 900,000 of the families on it are veterans, whose unemployment rate is 2x-3x the national average
  • It costs $80 billion a year, the US budget is $3,770 billion a year, so food stamps make up just over 2% of Federal expenditures. 
  • It was signed into law originally by a Republican President (Eisenhower)
  • Its original goal was to kill two birds with one stone: help farmers by buying their surplus food production and help poor people by feeding them with those surpluses; this is why the food stamp program is still part of the farm bill
So wait, if we raise the minimum wage, we could potentially cut the food stamp rolls by 41%, shifting that burden back to employers and off the American taxpayer, while simultaneously helping our veterans and their families? Score!

To be clear, if you're mad about government spending and your solution is to go after the food stamp program, you're an idiot. The GOP cuts trimmed $8.7 billion, which is a lot, until you realize that it's 11% of 2% of the federal budget. So congrats GOP you just saved 0.22% of federal expenditures by taking dinner away from poor people. In who's country is that an awesome move? I hope not America.

What about minimum wage? Who does that affect? Who makes minimum wage anyway?
  • 4.7% of hourly workers
  • 76% of minimum wage earners are NOT high school kids
  • Over half of them are women
By paying its employees minimum wage, the average Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers an estimated $900K/year, because those employees need assistance programs like... FOOD STAMPS! (that report has some flawed assumptions, but the basically calculate an average taxpayer burden of $3,000 per minimum wage employee per year) Wal Mart has over 3200 US stores, for a total taxpayer burden of... $2.8 billion! That's just Wal-Mart! Now let's add in all the other stores, hotels, and other businesses that pay minimum wage. 4.7% of the 75,000,000 hourly workers in the US, $3,000 taxpayer burden per minimum wage worker gets us... $10.5 billion dollars. Raising the minimum wage would save more money than they cut from the food stamp program. Not only would it not screw poor people and veterans, it would actively help them move towards the middle class. 


The most frustrating part to me is that much of the GOP base today is dumb enough to believe their bullshit.