Tag Archive: politics

As 2016 wound to a close, and we look ahead to the transition of the presidency and governing powers in Congress, I think it’s wise to see what the successors of the past 8 years are inheriting.

First, remember that in 2008, the financial crisis had already begun in 2007 with the subprime mortgage crisis. The stock market took a dive, unemployment soared, and the stimulus package was already signed into law as Obama took office.

Through various policies and challenges, the government attempted to right the proverbial ship. While recovery was not as fast as many would have liked (and there were some obstructionist factors for this), the economy has recovered. Let’s look at some data.


Above, you can see the great dip in 2008, and then see it’s massive and constant recovery through 2016. One would think that the DJ would be at least one indicator of a stronger economy, right? (This probably has something to do with the massive wealth inequality, but aren’t the rich–who are benefitting from the markets–supposed to trickle down their ducats?)


Meanwhile, unemployment has steadily gone down on a similar, inverse trajectory. Again, another seemingly no-brainer as an indicator of the improvement of the economy over the past 8 years. Now I’m sure some out there argue that these numbers are meaningless (ignoring the fact that it’s used by investors to gauge the economy’s health, or it only seems to matter when it’s high so detractors can hypocritically blame the president for a weak economy), so let’s look at their favorite statistic when unemployment is low: Labor Participation.


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Here we can see a few things right off the bat. First, the people not participating in the labor market (for whatever reason) has gone down, particularly since the late 1990s, but continued to do so throughout the last 8 years. Second, labor participation is still higher than it’s been since the mid-1970’s. Third, even as participation has shrunk since, say 2008, it has only done so by about 3%. But man, to hear some of Obama’s detractors’ put it, that 3% is just devastating and proof that the economy is failing.

So what’s behind these numbers? Someone has done a more detailed analysis than me (and by someone, I mean various analysts and the Congressional Budget Office). About half of that 3% comes from a sharp increase in those retiring out of the work force (i.e. Baby Boomers–see the chart below). Another 1% is related to temporary factors that are part of the business cycle. That leaves about 0.5% that is accounted for by “unusual aspects of the slow recovery that led workers to become discouraged and permanently drop out of the labor force.” Yup, a whole 1/2 of a percentage point. Seems a lot less impressive when one actually digs into the data, eh?


See that steep uptick at the end? Them’s retiring folk not participating in the labor market anymore.

Finally, some folks misrepresented Obama’s concerns about automation acting as a factor that was slowing the recovery of the economy. Well, remember those jobs that Trump “saved” at Carrier? The investment to keep the company competitive (and out of Mexico) is going to be for…automated robots to replace human workers.

Ok, enough about the economy. What about all that “out-of-control” violence spuriously tweeted by Trump?


Source: FBI crime statistics.

Well, 2015 and 2016 did see an increase in violent crime, in part because by 2014, such crime was at historic lows for the last 44 years! Perspective is an interesting thing, right? Further, while the murder rate has gone up in some major cities overall, much of that percentage increase is attributed to 10–or 3–cities with more drastic increases (outliers spike averages).

Remember when some folks were worried that Obama would come and take our guns (as late as 2015 and 2016? Shockingly, that didn’t happen. What did happen was continued gun violence, crime, and theft by other citizens. That’s right, the government isn’t taking our guns away, our neighbors are.

How about the Affordable Healthcare Act? (Also known as “Obamacare”). Health insurance premiums are going up, so it must be repealed (so the main part of the argument goes). While that’s true, premium growth has been slower under Obama than his predecessor. Sure there’s problems with it, but fundamentally people agree with many of its premises, particularly in those states that went red and are soon in danger of losing their coverage (and some are realizing that danger).


While there were, in fact, several things I was disappointed with over the past 8 years (some foreign policy issues, Eric Holder’s failure to hold anyone accountable for the banking crisis, etc.), overall, I think history will judge President Obama to be a successful, thoughtful, and intelligent president. His farewell speech was poignant, and his two terms were scandal free.

Trump has some mighty big shoes to fill, and I daresay he is not up to the challenge.



As you may have heard, the results of  John Edwards’ campaign finance trial was a ‘not guilty’ on one charge and  a mistrial on the other five due to the inability of the jury to come to a unanimous decision on a verdict.

In case you don’t know the timeline, here’s a summary:

  • 2006: Edwards begins an affair with Rielle Hunter, a filmmaker working on his presidential campaign while his wife battled cancer.  He covers up the affair (to the tune of $1 million) with money received from a donor during the presidential campaign.
  • March 2007: Elizabeth Edwards announces that her breast cancer had returned.
  • October 2007: Allegations are printed that Edwards was having an affair with Hunter.
  • February 2008: Hunter gives birth to a baby girl Quinn.
  • July 2008: Allegations are printed that Edwards is the father.
  • August 2008: Edwards admitted to the affair, but denied he was the father of Hunter’s baby Quinn.
  • January 2010: Edwards admits he was indeed the father of Quinn.  Edwards’ wife Elizabeth legally separates from him.
  • December 2010: Elizabeth dies of terminal breast cancer.
  • April 2012: Trial begins to determine if Edwards was in violation of campaign finance law for using funds to cover up his affair.
  • May 2012: The aforementioned verdict is reached.

Let’s take a look at some of Edwards’ statements during this whole sordid affair.

August 8, 2008: “In 2006…I recognized my mistake and I told my wife that I had a liaison with another woman, and I asked for her forgiveness. Although I was honest in every painful detail with my family, I did not tell the public. When a supermarket tabloid told a version of the story, I used the fact that the story contained many falsities to deny it. But being 99 percent honest is no longer enough.”

First, calling it a “liaison” doesn’t make it less offensive—sometimes semantics just makes you seem like a bigger scumbag.  Secondly, “being 99% honest” isn’t being honest—that’s withholding information which is…wait for it…dishonest.  (Oh, and you weren’t “honest in every detail” since you didn’t tell them that Quinn was your kid, that admission came 2 years later).

August, 2008: “I know that it’s not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events, so I know it’s not possible”
I think I’ve heard a similar story before:

And mother always told me be careful of who you love
And be careful of what you do
’cause the lie becomes the truth
Billie Jean is not my lover
She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one
But the kid is not my son
She says I am the one, but the kid is not my son

But, more substantively, let’s take a look at parts of his speech after the verdict in his trial had been reached.

“Firstly, I want to thank the jurors and their incredibly hard work and diligence. They took their job very seriously.”

You have no idea what went on behind closed doors; he begins his speech with some good old pandering.

“Thank goodness we live in a country that has the system we have, it is an exemplar of what juries are supposed to do.”

Notice he doesn’t say the system serves justice, it’s just the system “that we have.”  Which, of course, as a trial lawyer, he knows is quite susceptible to courtroom manipulation, appeals to emotion, and other ways to find loopholes and technicalities.  (Now I’m not saying that these did happen in this case, especially given the twisty rules of the FEC for campaign finance reform.  Indeed, neither side could present a clear-cut case of whether violations occurred because of a variety of factors, including the esoteric nature of the laws and a lack of key witnesses, partially thanks to the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  I’m just saying the whole thing smells funky.)

“No one else is responsible for my sins. I am responsible. If I want to find the person responsible for my sins, I don’t have to go further than a mirror, it was me and me alone.” 

“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

By calling them “sins,” he neatly avoids any criminal/legal entanglements.  We can only prosecute “crimes,” we can sin all we want as long as those sins don’t happen to also be crimes as defined by our legal system.  (Which is partly why a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, but I digress…don’t worry, that post is coming soon).

“My precious Quinn, [6 second pause] who I love more than any of you can ever imagine, who I am so close to, so, so grateful for.”

Considering you basically denied her existence as your offspring, I think we can imagine how much you love her pretty accurately.  Plus, quit trying to manipulate your viewers with this sham show of emotion with a staged pause and “choke up.”  By denying your child’s existence and then blubbering out some love clichés after a mistrial, your credibility is as shredded as the “fair and balanced” claim by Fox News.

“You saw her bathing on the roof…”

“I don’t think God is through with me. I think he believes there are still some things I can do.”

Not that I can claim to know the mind of God, but I don’t think “he” has any grand plans for a lying adulterer. (Unless, you know, your name is David or something).  And, given the treatment of most non-king adulterers by God in the Bible, I’m not so sure you should be so optimistic about the outcome of those things.

“I want to dedicate my life to being the best dad I can be and to helping those kids who I think deserve help.”

Well, admitting you’re the dad is a good first step.  And I hope your judgment about what kids need help is a bit better than you’ve shown in the past.

So why did I spend all this time on a fallen politico? Because I think it simultaneously shows the flaws in our justice system, campaign finance laws, and our political system in general.

Is Edwards guilty of a crime?


Is he a douche bag?


Hopefully, the latter verdict will follow him around for the rest of his life.

War with the Newts

No, not the one by Karel Čapek, but the one going on in the Republican primaries.

As the weeks of dueling sound bites and one-upmanship ground on, there were some comical moments.   Whether it was Romney worrying about pink slips, Gingrich’s excessive patriotism that led to his slips in his marital vows, or Santorum’s slip that overloading the planet with greenhouse gasses is good for the plants.

But, sometimes, a candidate gets on the phone with NPR and thinks he can bluff his way through the interview, dodging questions and the like.

Enter Newt Gingrich earlier this week.

Inskeep asked Gingrich if he thought he should pull out since the former Speaker offered just that advice back in 1996 to those running behind the front runner.  Newt’s response?  Well he has no incentive to get out because he “cares about the future of the party.”  Apparently, those in 1996 didn’t care enough.

Then Inskeep asked Newt if his criticisms of the President and global oil prices were valid. Gingrich says of course they’re valid because of simple supply and demand–drill more domestically (and don’t “bait Saudi Arabia to pump more”) and the prices will drop.  Inskeep countered with the facts that under Obama, domestic production has gone up and we import less foreign oil than we have in a decade (the opposite trends under the previous administration), and yet the prices are not dropping.  Newt counters that all that new supply is due to private enterprises, not Obama, and that the U.S. could be the world’s leading oil producer.  Never mind that 1) supply is supply, and where it comes from would be irrelevant to driving down global prices (if that’s all it took), and 2) the U.S. simply is not sitting on enough oil to become the largest producer.  Both are factually wrong and show how fallacious his argument about gas prices is.

Some of Gingrich’s other statements also reveal what is so wrong with the direction of our politics.  Following up on the gas prices question, Inskeep asks the former Speaker if the price of oil (and thus gas) isn’t really related to the tensions and conflicts in the Middle East.  Newt responds: ” But there wouldn’t have to be tensions in the Middle East if we were deliberately producing enough oil that we didn’t care about the Middle East.”  So we really are fighting for oil over there, not freedom, democracy, or any other high-brow motivation.  Unfortunately, I’m quite sure that this is mostly true.

Earlier, citing Gingrich’s only hope as preventing Romney from getting a majority, Newt’s response was: “And it’s also clear that Governor Romney has so much money that he can grind his way towards the nomination, despite all that.”  So, in other words, elections aren’t really about ideas, character, or who is the best candidate.  They’re mostly about who has enough money to grind his opponents into dust.  Again, that is mostly true and why we’re in desperate need of campaign finance reform.

But, of course, Newt’s spurious logic is not confined to phone calls to NPR.

Also earlier this week, Robert De Niro–that overrated actor–made a joke about the country not being ready for a white first lady should one of the Republicans win.  Newt demanded that President Obama apologize for De Niro because it was said at a fundraiser for the President.


Newt went on to clarify that if the “left want to talk about talk show hosts,” then “everyone in the country ought to hold the President accountable” when someone at his event says something.


So in Newt’s “mind,” a person on a national forum saying something degrading about a woman is as culpable as a fundraising host because the latter’s guest said something obviously satirical.  Yup, that almost makes sense…in a Čapek novel!

Of course, Newt doesn’t have the monopoly on spurious logic or even living as if he’s in a fictional world.

Take Rick Santorum.

Apparently the “defender of Homeland Security via denying gays the right to marriage” thinks Obama should not allow his daughter to go to Mexico for spring break because the State Department issued warnings for other parts of the country.  Santorum goes on to say that the President “is not above the law.”  Which is a fair point.  Except of course, that a State Department warning is not a law, especially when the warning is not relevant to that part of the country being visited.

But hey, why let facts get in the way of rhetoric?  I mean, voters do fall for this nonsense all the time.

Sorry for the cynical week-ender, but sometimes our broken political system just proves to be too ludicrous for me to ignore.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives took action on its Concurrent Resolution 13 to reaffirm “In God We Trust” as the national motto.

Some argued (Rep. Nadler of NY) that this resolution was a waste of time since no one was paying attention to such a trivial matter, let alone attacking/threatening this motto.

Others (Rep. Smith of TX) argued that: “There are few things Congress could do that would be more important than passing this resolution.”


Really, there are “few” things our legislative branch could be doing that is more important that reaffirming some blatantly Judea-Chrisitian motto that no one is talking about?

Let’s see if we can come up with a short list of other things they could be doing in, say 1 minute:

1. Campaign Finance Reform

2. Gerrymandering Reform

3. Addressing the welfare system

4. Addressing the taxation system for loopholes and inequalities

5. Addressing lobbying interests and influence from K Street

6. Plugging our holes in our cyber infrastructure

7. Addressing wealth disparity

8. Listening to the Occupy Wall Street Protests going on throughout the world

My time is up.  Yes, I actually picked those off the top of my head in one literal minute.

Imagine what we could come up with if we took the same time (30 minutes) used on the House floor for this resolution to think about the problems we’re facing and how to solve them.

Oh, and hey electorate, if the approval rating of Congress is a dismal 9%, STOP ELECTING THE SAME PEOPLE OVER AND OVER to the body. Let’s try electing people not entrenched in the stagnant and polarized 2-party monopoly.


P.S. Sorry about the lack of my usual decorum; the ludicrousness of Congress is just too much to handle sometimes.


So I want to talk politics for a minute. Before you skim over the rest of this post assuming my usual take on the subject, let me assure you that this one is different from my usual fare.

There are good reasons why politics and religion are often barred from dinner conversation. Mostly, we get all hopped up on our point of view and that adrenaline or emotional overload can lead to the abandonment of what would otherwise be a reasonable conversation. But I would like to focus on the first of these taboo subjects, and why I believe our general misconception about the whole process is doing us more harm than good.

First, we’re all in this together; and by “we,” I do mean all humans, but let’s focus on the US for convenience’s sake. Wherever we land on the political spectrum (liberal through conservative), we all believe that our “side’s” way is the best way forward for our country. Otherwise, there would be little room for debate/discussion/arguments. We elect representatives that we think have our best interests at heart and will govern in a manner that will increase the prosperity (in all its facets) of the nation. And I’m sure some of the representatives believe they can do this, too.

But here’s the problem: the political machine (especially at the federal level) has become a nigh-immoveable object with the interests of only a few as its driving goals. These special interests are able to compete with each other since they have the resources (i.e. money) to be able to influence our two political parties, and consequently those parties’ candidates and representatives. Lobbyists from “K” street remain mostly hidden from public view, and yet spend billions of dollars influencing (and gaining access to) members of Congress. If you write a letter to your Congress person, and a lobbyist (who has donated millions of dollars to their campaign) writes a letter to that same Congress person, who do you think is going to get the meeting?

The other side of the problem is Gerrymandering: this entrenches one or the other party in their districts, making “free and fair” elections something of a misnomer. (Incidentally, a recent project has shown the ability of undergraduate to accurately and fairly draw districts to actually represent the people that live within those lines). The two parties have become so ubiquitous, that we, the citizenry, think that we can only have two choices in who governs us (even the Tea Party was subsumed under the Republican banner). This restriction to only two parties to address the many facets of our political issues is axiomatically (self-evidently) false. Sure each party tries to encompass a wide base (and thus range on any given issue), but that doesn’t mean that either one accurately represents its voting adherents. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; how many times have you heard someone vote for a candidate (or party) not because they believe in everything that choice stands for, but because it’s the lesser of two evils? That is not a good enough criterion to elect an effective government. Further, this dichotomy falsely divides our citizenry into two camps that hurl vitriolic invectives at each other, rather than seeing we’re all in this problem together. (Hence my opening quote by Hamilton in the first Federalist paper.)

Our current debt/budget crisis highlights the problems of our government. In a time when both sides should come together to do what is right and best for our country, they are not. There’s a blind adherence to party lines and castigation of the “other” side while we skate toward the edge of a disaster. In the midst of a global financial crisis (and all nations are financially interconnected), to have the US default on its loans would produce devastating consequences. And to use the threat of that as a bargaining chip in budget talks is abominable and in no way holds the citizenry’s interest at heart.

The bottom line is that our representatives have failed to effectively govern us. We were the most prosperous nation coming out of World War II and remained so for many decades. We had the opportunity to eliminate poverty and hunger in our own country. We did not. We had the opportunity to provide the best education and health care systems to our citizenry. We did not. We had the opportunity to create renewable energy sources and wean ourselves off the foreign-oil teat. We did not. And it’s not because we, the people, would not want these things. It’s because systems that were in place have broken down and have led to the stagnation of the public good at the expense of the self-interests of greed and power. Obviously there has been relative stability in the US, but stability is not the same as progress toward the good of all. We need to make some drastic changes to our system (campaign finance reform and Gerrymandering) and reclaim the voice of the “ordinary” people who bear the brunt of any hardships and crises that our nation faces.

So here, as I “pour my heart out,” I urge each of us to take a step back from our political views, and try looking at the larger picture. And not just for the next campaign or election cycle, but further down the road; for all seeds of our future solutions or disasters are being sown today, in these uncertain times. And we all need to do a better job of helping our country live up to those ideals (freedom, justice, progress) that it purports to represent.

“A torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose. To judge from the conduct of the opposite parties, we shall be led to conclude that they will mutually hope to evince the justness of their opinions, and to increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives.” -Hamilton

“Bread and circuses” is one of the enduring phrases of the first/second century satirist Juvenal who was writing about the Roman Empire.  His 16 satires describe a world rife with oily lawyers, brown-nosing sycophants, unappreciated teachers, and vice-ridden politicians.  Sound familiar?  More to my point, he begrudged the citizenry for giving up their political power for the grain dole (free food) and violent spectacles (the circus games)—the dynamic duo of offerings that the political elite devised in order to win the support of the poor (pretty much everyone outside the small aristocracy).  This form of political populism (appealing to the average Joe) has continued right down through the ages to our very own republic.  Though I suppose we could boil it down further to “vitriol at the other and ridiculous sound bites” (see, that’s why Juvenal will stand the test of time while my rants will be lost in the cloud).

From outlandish hyperbole (I’m aware of the potential redundancy but read the story) to the total disregard of historical perspective, and from hypocritical homophobes to the encouraging of conspiracy theories, our political process has become a joke, and a terrible one at that.  When a senator spouts off on the Senate Floor (and thus into the Congressional Record—you know, that permanent record documenting the process of our government) some ridiculous statement which he then defends with “it was not meant to be a factual statement,” one must wonder when we, the people, will say “enough is enough.”

That is, unless we’re too busy pointing the finger at each other and spewing venom back and forth while we continue to elect representatives that don’t really represent our interests (despite that being pretty much the entirety of their job description).  Or maybe we’re too busy catching up on Dancing With the Stars or The Jersey Shore while eating our McNuggets.  And who provides this vapid entertainment and cheap food?  Firms represented by powerful lobbyists who provide massive funds to those same elected officials.  Now, who do you think those Congressfolk are really going to listen to during our perpetual re-election campaigns?

If we don’t start paying more critical and objective attention to our political system, I dare say we’re on the road to follow in Rome’s footsteps (that story didn’t end too well if you recall).  Not by an invasion, but by a slow decay of civic responsibility and duty that results in a further concentration of power in the hands of a removed elite whose only interests are power and self-preservation.  And they’re well on their way.

To quote Juvenal again: “…for who could endure this monstrous city, however callous at heart, and swallow his wrath?  What’s infamy matter if you keep your fortune?”

The lessons of history indeed.

P.s. I only pick on the above mentioned shows because I think they’re utterly ridiculous. Of course, some of the garbage I watch might be just as bad, but it’s my prerogative as author to keep my vices hidden! 😉

James Madison, Federalist No.10 (excerpts):

“By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

“The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.”

“In the next place, as each representative will be chosen by a greater number of citizens in the large than in the small republic, it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice with success the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre in men who possess the most attractive merit and the most diffusive and established characters.”

“A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source.”

I can’t help but wonder why Madison didn’t consider political parties to be a manifestation of the very thing-factions-that he was warning against.  Perhaps he did, but didn’t foresee a polarization and crystallization of only two parties that would come to dominate our political arena. If the parties are inherent in politics, how can we reliable and realistically control for the effects of them with so limited options?

Also, to use his example, as a religious group has become a strong and substantial part of the constituency of one party (which transcends state borders to the national level), one must also wonder if we’re as insulated against dangers from any such group (or other lobbyists) at all.  In the constant-campaign season and ever-present need to raise money, it’s no wonder that lobbyists (i.e. factions with particular agendas which can be at odds with groups of citizens or the country at large) are very powerful indeed.

Further, as the citizenry is almost always displeased with Congress (and the Executive), especially in the light of constant scandals, perhaps it’s time for a change to the system?

The latest SEC suit (vs. Goldman Sacs) highlights the lack of power Congress has over blatantly wrong yet powerful entities (Wall Street), and the lack of respect with which the latter treats the former.  More later on my semi-sound ideas about how to perhaps improve the system through reform.

Although I shouldn’t deign to comment on the Tea Party’s “platform,” I can’t help but to do so after hearing some of their profound video snippets explaining their concerns.

1. Smaller government…except for the programs they don’t want cut (which of course are the ones they use like Social Security or Medicare: “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added,”I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”- A tea party member in a NY times poll).

Where were the protesters when the last administration nearly doubled the deficit ($5.7T to $9.2T), of which a hefty chunk ($1T) was spent on a foreign preemptive war based on faulty intelligence?

2. A return to the founding fathers’ principles.  (Apparently (?) unaware that only white, land owning males could vote during that illustrious time period, which would of course preclude many of the organization’s members from voting for the very reforms they crave.  You can’t just pick and choose the parts of historic eras you want and ignore the context or aspects that don’t fit with your “philosophy”).

3. Representation for their demographic…older, well-educated white people. (We certainly don’t have that currently).

4. We’re now-especially with Obama-heading down the road to Socialism.

5. Lower taxes…despite the tax cuts they (and ~90% of America) just received.

6. The Health Care Reform bill should be repealed, partly because it’s a lot like socialist medicine. (Never mind that the WHO ranked the US health care system as 37th the last time they did such research.  And who ranked above the US? France, Finland, Australia, the UK-all socialist systems.  And even though many view this report as flawed, the US’s higher ranking still lags behind the other countries-just not as much as the initial report suggests-when spending is taken out of the equation.)

7. The Health Care Reform bill should be repealed, partly because it’s so expensive and will increase the deficit. (“We want to take money that is already being spent on health care and re-allocate it toward reforms that lower costs and assure quality affordable health care for all Americans…Health insurance reform would be fully paid for over 10 years, and it would not add one penny to the deficit.” “The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, together, these measures [slowed Medicare and Medicaid spending and taxes on the rich and Cadillac-plans] will decrease spending and increase revenue enough to reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the first 10 years and more than $1 trillion in the second decade.” -The White House)

I’m all about the freedom of speech, but I usually liked to see it backed up with rationality, or at least some evidence that doesn’t put a situation into a vacuum without context.  Of course, the Tea Party represents a small minority of the populace, it’s just too bad that they get so much publicity.

Relevant Links: