Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Decoding Romney’s platform

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

I honestly have no idea what Mitt Romney will do as President. Who will show up on day 1? The self-described “severe conservative” from the primaries or the moderate from the debates? I really have no idea what this guy stands for.

I looked at the spending page on his web site to try to learn more about his platform. A few things stood out to me:

Reduce Waste And Fraud — Savings: $60 Billion. The federal government made $125 billion in improper payments last year. Cutting that amount in half through stricter enforcement and harsher penalties yields returns many times over on the investment.

This is confusing to me. If you know that $125B of the payments you made were improper (you’d have to know which payments in order to get that number), why wouldn’t you cut that amount to zero? What are these payments? Who’s getting paid? What?

His plan to cap federal spending at 20% of GDP says this:

Requires spending cuts of approximately $500 billion per year in 2016 assuming robust economic recovery with 4% annual growth, and reversal of irresponsible Obama-era defense cuts

GDP growth hasn’t been at 4% in about 13 years (source). Why you would assume Clinton-era growth in this economic climate is beyond me.

The bigger issue is that he seems to promise all these things (20% tax cut, increased military spending) without calling out what he’s going to cut to balance the books. When asked this in the debate, he brought up PBS (0.0012% of the federal budget). There are two possible reasons for not telling us what he’ll cut: either he doesn’t know (thus his assurances of balancing the budget are meaningless) or he doesn’t think we’ll vote for him if he tells us. Could be both.

This is not how statistics work

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

This was the weirdest (but maybe cleverest) line from Paul Ryan’s debate with Joe Biden:

“Do you know what the unemployment rate is in Scranton? […] It’s 10%. You know what it was when you guys came into office? 8.5% That’s how it’s going all around America.”

What a clearly intentionally misleading statement. That statement was aimed directly at, uh, underinformed people. Why not just pick one person who is unemployed and claim that the rate is 100%? We have real statistics for this data: unemployment has been declining and is ~7.8%.

This is really the bottom of the barrel for lying with statistics. I get frustrated when people say that statistics can be used for lies, therefore they don’t trust them. Yes, statistics can mislead, but it takes an uninformed/uninterested/uneducated listener to make that misdirection really work. (I don’t mean formal education, just lacking an ability to interpret statistics, understand things like correlation vs. causation, etc.)

This post has been edited to make it slightly less condescending. These things make me cranky.

If Obama wins in 2008…

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

In 2008, Focus on the Family sent out an article describing what would happen if Obama was elected. It was presented as a “Letter from 2012″, a warning from the future of what those 4 years would yield. They made 37 predictions and zero of them came true. has a thorough walk-through of the document, if you’re interested. My favorite part of the Focus on the Family letter was the prediction that “Conservative talk radio, for all intents and purposes, was shut down by the end of 2010.” Ha!

Unsurprisingly, there’s no retraction or apology to go along with this. The same old scare tactics still work with the base, despite a four-year record. The vastly different ways in which people view Obama’s presidency is really stunning to me. I think it’s largely an issue of priming: if you think he’s a Kenyan leftist radical to begin with, you’ll view things through that prism and cherry-pick your facts from dubious sources.

This is a president who passed one of the largest tax cuts in decades (1/3 of the stimulus bill was tax cuts… a measure that garnered exactly zero republican votes). His health care bill is derived from those of Mitt Romney and Bob Dole. He has increased drone warfare dramatically (you know how liberals love those!). The public sector lost 600,000 jobs under Obama. The fact that so many people consider him such an unrecognizable shift from the status quo is really stunning to me.

“Who won the debate?”

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Jimmy Kimmel had a funny segment interviewing people about the presidential debate before the debate happened:

For the record

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

During the foreign policy debate, Mitt Romney referred to Syria as Iran’s “route to the sea”. They don’t actually share a border, and Iran already borders the sea:

Flip Flip Ctd.

Friday, October 12th, 2012

From The Onion:
Romney Proudly Explains How He’s Turned Campaign Around: ‘I’m Lying More,’ He Says

“The best part is, it’s really easy to lie,” said Romney, who added that voicing whatever untruths come into his mind at any given moment is an easy thing to do because all it requires is opening his mouth and talking. “For example, if someone accuses me of having a tax plan that makes no discernable sense, I just lie and say that I do have a tax plan that makes sense. I also say there is a study that backs up my plan. See that? Simple. None of it is remotely true, of course, but now we’re moving on to the next topic because people are usually too afraid to ask me straight up if I’m lying, because that is apparently not something you ask someone who is running for president.”

One of those funny-because-it’s-true things.


Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Consistency in the opinions of politicians over time is something that is over-valued in American politics. Being labeled a flip-flopper is certainly a bad thing. However, it’s important to note that there are different reasons to change one’s opinions and they can range from extraordinarily honest to cynically opportunistic. For example, if you learn new things or have new life experiences, it’s reasonable to change your opinion about things. Those of you who have known me for a while have seen me do this on a whole host of issues. With that said, changing an opinion on something important out of pure political opportunism is bad, and changing your message dramatically when speaking to different audiences is worse.

Mitt Romney is doing a lot of the second type of this. He has had that reputation for a long time now (for example, on abortion), but it really showed during the first debate. Romney went from being a self-described “severe conservative” to acting like a moderate very abruptly. Steering towards the middle in the general election is normal, but Romney did it by flat-out lying about his platform. These aren’t misrepresentations or exaggerations or gray areas, they are lies. One example that stuck out is his unambiguous claim that “preexisting conditions are covered under my plan”. CNN followed up with the Romney campaign on this issue after the debate:

When pressed whether Romney would require states to include a pre-existing conditions stipulation in their legislation, Fehrnstrom answered: “We will give the state initiatives and money so that they can manage these decisions on their own. But, of course, we’d like them to see them continue that pre-existing band for those who have continuous coverage.”

Saying “we’d like states to do it” is not the same as being “part of my plan”, by any stretch of the imagination. Also, it’s not clear to me how you’d cover preexisting conditions without an individual mandate (i.e. why buy health insurance when you’re healthy if you can just wait until you’re sick?).

The sad part is, there are a lot of low-information voters who will hear Romney say this and will have no reason to question him.

Here are some more:


Bill Clinton @ DNC convention

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Bill Clinton’s speech at the DNC convention was one of the best political speeches I’ve seen. It’s relatively long, but he’s such a good speaker that it didn’t bother me at all. I was amazed at how well he was able to talk about policy (ACTUAL POLICY!) and make it interesting, with huge dramatic verbal emphasis on certain points (e.g. “now listen to this, this is important”). I’ve never been a big Bill Clinton fan, but this speech left me really impressed.


What is Obamacare?

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Reddit has the best distillation of the ACA (obamacare) that I’ve read. Based upon other things I’ve seen, this is quite accurate and well-sourced.

The legislation is not simple, but it’s much easier to discuss now that there aren’t 10 different variations on the plan floating around like there were before it passed. Distillations of this as “socialized medicine” don’t seem apt from my understanding of the bill. It does increase regulation and governmental control, but it is still distributing medicine largely through market mechanisms.

Also, some things in that summary left me thinking “wait, that’s not already the law?!”, such as “Insurers can’t just drop customers once they get sick.”

Thoughts on the Death Penalty

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

The applause for the death penalty at the recent Republican debate truly took me by surprise. Here’s the clip in case you haven’t seen it:


First, from a purely political standpoint, it’s quite a contrast to go from a debate railing against the excesses and encroachment of government to literally cheering the greatest possible power a government can have over its citizens: the right to take a citizen’s life.

I debated the death penalty a bit with some friends a couple of months ago. They were both in favor of it, but I won’t really be able to represent their side of the argument here, since I still can’t quite comprehend it, to be honest. The death penalty isn’t cheaper for society than life in prison, nor has it been shown to be any significant deterrent on crime. The only reasoning left, as far as I can tell, is “an eye for an eye”, which strikes me more as a slogan than a philosophical stance.

Death penalty proponents must place a lot of faith in the system, but I think that place is misplaced.

I recently read the 2009 New Yorker article about Cameron Todd Willingham, which describes the trial and execution of a man who, now with increased scrutiny, was likely innocent. It’s a long article, but definitely worth your time. Willingham was executed in Texas under Governor Rick Perry, so expect to hear this name more if he stays in the race.

The article zooms out to the larger issue a bit, too:

Since 1976, more than a hundred and thirty people on death row have been exonerated. DNA testing, which was developed in the eighties, saved seventeen of them, but the technique can be used only in rare instances.

The amount of effort (and luck) needed to get exonerated is exceptional. It’s not hard to imagine how many people must have not been so lucky.

The discussion with friends that I mentioned above was, as far as I recall, the first time I’ve debated the issue with someone on the other side, but from the polling data I’ve found, I’m clearly in the minority on this one. This page shows the polling numbers broken down by a bunch of different demographics (including religion), and this is the only chart that shows a group that doesn’t support the death penalty:

That page suggests that this difference may be because “Blacks represent 42% of the inmates on death row, but only 12% of the nation’s population.”, but I think it’s a lot simpler than that: a lot of black people have seen a justice system that is anything but just. It would make no sense to trust it with the death penalty.

On a lighter note, this sketch about firing squads is really funny: