Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Staggering wealth disparity btw races

I doubt anyone would be surprised to learn there is a significant difference between the average net worth of a white person and that of a black person, or a Latino. But just how significant left me momentarily breathless.

From The Washington Post:
Between 2005 and 2009, the median net worth of black families fell to $5,677 from $12,124, and that of Hispanic families fell to $6,325 from $18,359. In the same period, the median net worth of white households dropped to $113,149 from $134,992.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Boehner: Obama walked from non-existent debt ceiling deal

Earlier this evening, after breaking off debt ceiling talks with the White House, Speaker John Boehner sent a letter to his caucus that said, in part:
"A deal was never reached, and was never really close."
But during his 7:15 p.m. press conference, Speaker Boehner said the president walked away from a deal "at the last minute."

How can both of those things be true?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Georgia Open Records: Coggin v. Davey

According to the Georgia Supreme Court, the Georgia legislature is not subject to state open records laws because it's not a state agency.

From Coggin v. Davey (1974):
"We think that the statute is applicable to the departments, agencies, boards, bureaus, etc. of this state and its political subdivisions. It is not applicable to the General Assembly. ...

We concur in the holding that the General Assembly is not a "state department, agency, board, bureau, commission or political subdivision" and that the statute is therefore inapplicable to the General Assembly."
I don't have much to add to that. It just came up kind of randomly today.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Reagan raised taxes 11 times

“Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinksmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the Federal deficit would soar.”

- Ronald Reagan

I'm not saying raise taxes. I'm not saying who's right and who's wrong in this debt ceiling argument. I'm saying Reagan raised taxes 11 times.

Taxes were still lower when he left office than when he came in, due to a major cut shortly after his first election. But I think it's fair to equate that initial cut with the Bush tax cuts, and President Obama's agreement to re-up them.

The point is, this idea that there is never a right time to raise any taxes (see Grover Norquist's comment starting at 5:18), is just as foolish as that kind of always-say-never philosophy generally is.

And the abdication of the responsibility to compromise that comes with being a member of Congress is really starting to upset me. U.S. corporations are sitting on $2 trillion in cash and certainty seems to be what everybody wants.

So give us some certainty. Pass a debt ceiling deal. Like we did 17 (or 18 - I've seen both figures) times under President Reagan. Include significant spending cuts and tax reform if you can, but at the very least, please stop driving the economy down over an arbitrary line in the sand.

Update: The GOP put this video out recently in a push back against Democrats trying to co-opt Reagan's reputation. I include it in the interest of representing different views, but it doesn't change the fact that smart and reasonable people do what needs to be done based on reality.

Maybe it's not Caylee's law. Maybe it's Jadon's.

It is sad the way society turns some crimes into spectacles, and largely ignores others.

A child's death is tragic, always. Yet so few capture national attention. And I fear state legislatures around the country are about to reinforce our selective calls for justice by naming new laws after Caylee Anthony, a little girl killed in Florida.

Nearly 30 states are considering some version of "Caylee's Law," which would generally make it a felony to fail to report a child missing in a timely manner. In North Carolina state reps. Kelly Hastings and Tim Moore have discussed such a law.

But what about Jadon Higganbothan, the 4-year-old boy killed last fall in Durham? Jadon's mother has been charged in his death, which was allegedly committed by an enraged cult leader named Peter Moses.

Where's Jadon's law? Where's the national outrage over the senseless death of this little boy? Is it lacking simply because he was black?

And if we're going name a law in North Carolina, isn't it right to name it after a North Carolinian?

Rep. Hastings, R-Gaston, said late last week that he and Moore "have not officially named the bill," but they've gotten "hundreds" of requests to name it after Caylee.

"You are correct there a lot of victims here in NC that we can use," Hastings said. "Frankly it could be that we just amend the current law. So I hear what your concerns are. ... But I can tell you that constituents and people in general society right now are using 'Caylee's Law' as a term ... fairly commonly."

Of course they are. Nancy Grace told them to, right after 30 second spots for Dove soap and Hotels.com.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Elusive brainpower

I don't know much about @elusivepatriot, except that he has 717 Twitter followers, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Karl Rove are among them. Also, I doubt he actually thinks Barack Obama is lying to everyone about being a barterer of communists.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is the debt ceiling unconstitutional?

I've never understood the U.S. debt ceiling, because it's not really tied to spending. It's more like your credit card bill. You spend the money, then a bill shows up and you say, "Wait - this is more spending than I'm comfortable with."

The time for that conversation was at the checkout counter, my friend.

At any rate, this Washington Post "5 myths" piece, written by a former Reagan and G.W. Bush adviser who has turned on Reaganomics in more recent years, brought up a point I had not seen elsewhere:
Republicans believe they have the president over a barrel. But their hand may be weaker than they think. A number of legal scholars point to Section 4of the 14th Amendment, which says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned.”

Some scholars, including Michael Abramowicz of George Washington University Law Schooland Garrett Epps of the University of Baltimore Law School, think this passage may make the debt limit unconstitutional because by definition, the limit calls into question the validity of the public debt. Thus Treasury may be able to just ignore the debt limit.

Other scholars, such as Michael McConnell of Stanford Law School, say the 14th Amendment will force Obama to prioritize debt payments and unilaterally slash spending to pay bondholders. But this would involve the violation of laws requiring government spending.

Either way, a failure to raise the debt limit would force the president to break the law. The only question is which one.
Who knows. Like I said, the concept doesn't make sense to me. What rational entity caps its borrowing, but not its spending?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Map: state unemployment rates compared to legislative control

During the recent N.C. legislative session former N.C. Speaker and current House Appropriations Chairman Harold Brubaker insisted that Democrats were solely responsible for North Carolina's nearly 10 percent unemployment rate.

He said it a couple of times in an impromptu conversation with reporters, despite the fact that, say, Georgia, a state completely run by Republicans, had a nearly identical jobless rate at the time.

I asked, isn't the national economy largely to blame for unemployment here?

"No," Brubaker said. "Mismanagement. We have seen departments that have grown by 50 percent. ... If we'd of had the TABOR, we wouldn't be here."

Colorado appears to be the only state with a "TAxpayer Bill Of Rights," which strictly limits state spending growth. Unemployment in Colorado right now is nearly 8.7 percent, a percentage point lower than in North Carolina.

I wondered, could I find any correlation between party control of state legislatures and unemployment rates? Using figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and maps from the National Conference of State Legislatures I compared party control to unemployment rates. I used May employment rates and compared them legislative control in 2008 and 2010, though the 2008 political situation seemed much more relevant.

So here you have the state-by-state May 2011 unemployment figures super-imposed on this pre-2010 party control map for state legislatures. Red = Republican control, blue Democrats, purple non-partisan and the orange divided control.

Click image for a clearer version.

The national average for unemployment is 9.1 percent. If you draw a line there, 32 states are below 9.1 percent and 18 are at or above it.

Of the states below that line, the legislatures of 53 percent of them were controlled by Democrats before the 2010 elections. After, that dropped to 28 percent.

Of the states at or above that line (meaning they have the worst current unemployment rates), 55 percent were controlled by Democrats prior to 2010. Post 2010 elections, that drops to 38 percent. Republicans actually controlled a slightly larger percentage of legislatures pre-2010 in these worse-off states, 33 percent compared to 25 percent for states with better-than-average current unemployment.

But that's all roughly in line with the national splits of legislative control regardless of employment situation. Pre-2010, Democrats controlled 54 percent of state legislatures and Republicans 28 percent.

So what can we conclude from all this? Not much. But I did make a map. The life of an under-employed journalist is truly a rich one.

And, if you focus on the south, you see Republicans can screw up an economy just as well as Democrats, if not better. Out west, no one blows it like the Democrats.

Unless you consider that, just maybe, state governments don't have a ton of control over the vast interplay that molds an economy.

Note: Any aspiring or actual statisticians who want to take issue with something in this post, feel free to do so in the comments. I readily acknowledge that this is just a small set of information.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A truly scary unemployment trend

To call today's lackluster jobs report "shocking" is fairly ridiculous, given the long-discussed expectation that there would be some level of a double-dip to this recession.

That's just the way recoveries often go when the initial fall off is a deep one.

But the chart below, which CNBC called "the scariest jobs chart ever" a few moments ago, is indeed frightening. Particularly for someone like me: young(ish), underemployed for a year and in an industry that shows no signs of improving, ever.

The chart comes from the Federal Reserve's research wing in St. Louis. Folks, that is what charts look like when the upper boundary is labelled "to infinity." It's what it looks like when the jobs simply don't come back.

That doesn't mean that's what will happen. Like the collector coins advertised on late night television, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. But that is long-term, white-knuckle, truly-scared-for-the-first-time stuff.

Friday, July 1, 2011

N.C. Redistricting

Man, you have just got to love the things race still makes us do.

Note the proposed North Carolina 12th and 4th districts. The 12th connects Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, spanning more than 90 miles. The 4th runs from Durham down to Fayetteville, but around Spring Lake and Fort Bragg.

A piece of the economy

I accept that there's a certain amount of bullshit to any public company CEO's appearance on CNBC. But there is insight to our jobs-fewer economic recovery in this brief interview with the Italian head of Luxottica, an eyeglasses company that owns the Oakley and Ray-Ban brands, as well as LensCrafters.

First, who the hell bets $100 that the CEO of an Italian eyeglasses maker is going to appear on U.S. national television, for the 50th anniversary of his company, not wearing glasses?

Second, did you hear the reporter say, "strong demand for luxury goods helped Luxottica rake in record sales last year?"

What, would you say, is the best tax policy to encourage the highest employment rate? Would it, in any way, discourage consumption of high-end fashionable eyeglasses?

Or private jets, if you prefer?

Your answer may not fail to account for human greed.
Reporter: You have a good handle on the high-end consumer. ... How is that consumer doing right now?"

Luxottica CEO: Not bad at all.