Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Who's to blame for Virginia?

Welcome back.

Today my on-line friend @AvgAndy tweeted (or RT'd) a tweet from Sean Davis which is looking to relieve the consciences of so-called Conservatives on the far right for the victory in Virginia for the Governor's seat.  As you may or may not know, the execrable Terry McAuliffe beat Ken Cuccinelli thus:


Sean's argument is fairly nuanced, so credit to him for being a deep thinker.  He's saying that in spite of the gap between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli being less than the number of votes Sarvis received, there are demographic factors which tell us that Sarvis didn't actually split the vote in a way that harms the RNC candidate.

----- START EXCURSIS -----

Before I dive into my counter-claim to Sean's essay, let's make sure we say this:

I am in no way opposed to voting as far to the right as you think you can stand to vote in the primaries for every office in the nation.  Vote Gonzo Libertarian.  Vote Anarchist or Theonomist if you are so inclined in your reasoning to get a candidate which will set this country to rights.  In the Primaries, work on your party to make it look like you do, ideologically and socially.

After the Primary, Don't Waste Your Vote.

I know that's hard to hear for a lot of people because they have a very idealistic view of the actual election -- but at the end of the day, an election is an utterly-pragmatic thing.  It is only about the math of the turn-out, and it is going to cause only one of two things to happen:

1. A Candidate on your side of the political spectrum will be elected.

2. A Candidate from the other side of the political spectrum will be elected.

You may bicker about whether you can accept #1 or whether you think #2 is actually that much worse than #1, but consider this: politics is always a game of incrementalism.  If you cannot accept incremental improvements, you don't understand politics.  But in the end, it is about how many votes someone got, and where they came from.

----- END EXCURSIS -----

So where did Terry McAuliffe get his votes?

Sean's argument is that this is the most relevant exit poll statistic:


He says that because Sarvis only got 3% of the Conservative vote, and McAuliffe won by more than 3% total, Sarvis did not split the vote badly enough to be the cause of McAuliffe's victory.  Sean minimizes the impact here of Moderate voters by pointing out in this graphic that McAuliffe won the majority of moderates by 3:2, and anyone who looks closely at Sarvis' campaign would say that he wasn't a Libertarian at all but in fact a Liberal.  That is: Moderates would have swung to McAuliffe if Sarvis was out.

The problem with this view is not that it makes weird assumptions: it is that it ignores the argument being made by us complainers on the Jaded Right.  Our argument is not that Sarvis should not have run: it is that people choosing him over Cuccinelli caused the RNC candidate to lose.

It's true enough that 3% of conservative voters went with Sarvis, but even if the Moderates split 3:2, that's a 4-point swing to Cuccinelli of Moderates who voted Sardis.  3% of conservative voters in VA is about 1.5% of voters; 4% of Moderates is about another 1.5% of voters.  That's the 3% Cuccinelli needs to close the gap and win.

There's only one place to hang this one, and it's on voters who voters to "make a statement" rather than elect a candidate.



Monday, September 30, 2013

An Update from Hiatus

Yesterday I was at church picking up my kids from their weekend retreat, and a friend at church came over to me, laughing -- because on a lark he Googled my name and was astounded by some of the things which are said about me on the internet.  However, as I said, he was laughing because he's my friend and therefore has the starch to get the joke implied there rather than to ask me whether or not, for example, I am leading a Jekyll-and-Hyde existence.


He pointed me to a couple of links in particular which he found which were especially toxic (and unsurprisingly: link free; they accused me of things unsubstantiated), and asked me how I can abide such things.  I told him that a clear conscience is it own reward, and thought nothing of it.

But I did look, which was a mistake.  In particular, I looked at some links which implied I had my statistics about abortion wrong.  Well, say what you want about me when there are no facts involved -- you're welcome to your internal dialog.  When there are facts on the line, we should at least make sure they are front-and-center when we start saying someone on the internet is wrong.

Here's a table of data from the CDC regarding birth rates in the United States:

CLICK TO ENLARGE
That table reports all live births, all abortions, and the ratio of abortions per 10,000 live births.  The reason for making that comparison is that the rate of abortions is relevant to track whether or not abortion is becoming more prevalent, less prevalent, or staying about level.

This is a sticking point, I am certain, for the hard-core who think I am somehow soft on abortion because look at the table:  there were more abortions in 2008 than there were in 1974.  More babies died in abortion in 2008 than in 1974, so there's no way that's an improvement, right? Well, problematically, there were also more babies born in 2008 than there were in 1974 -- so how can we tell whether women are choosing abortion more often or less often?  How can we tell if, for example, closing 37% of all abortion clinics over the last 30 years has actually impacted the rate of abortion in our country?  Let's be plain about this: the question "out there" on the internet right now, when considering my grasp of these facts, is that I am somehow defective in my understanding because the number of abortions in 2008 is higher than it was when Roe V. Wade opened the flood gates.

Well, objectively, the year with the highest number of abortions in the US was 1990 with 1.608 million abortions, and in 2008 there were 1.212 million abortions.  That's a difference -- a decrease -- of 25% in raw deaths by abortion.  That's a significant dip in raw counts, and those who would say we can't judge whether or not the pro-life movement is making any impact are whistling in the dark.

But it actually gets worse for them when we consider the rate of abortion compared to the number of births.



1981 was the worst year on-record for the ratio of abortions to 10,000 live births equal to 4346 -- an effective rate of 43.5%.  When we compare that to where we were in 2008 (2854 per 10,000 live births, an effective rate of 28.5%), the reduction is 34.3%, which correlates almost directly to the number of abortion clinics closed in the same period of time.

1.2 million murdered babies is still a national tragedy.  This data does not undermine that  indisputable fact that the reason this happens in our nation is that the Law allows it, and most of the political discourse hides the faces of murdered babies behind the faces of women who want to have pre-marital sex without any regard to the lives that it may effect, and buries the deep and unflappable racism of the abortion culture.  But factually: the side of the angels is winning this war by inches, and every life saved is a life saved.  Minimizing the real victories in order to justify vitriolic and anti-Gospel methods because the path of the pro-life movement hasn't stopped all abortions yet is short-sighted at best, and I'll be glad to be the guy who takes flack for calling out people who are, frankly, don't know how to account for the value of one life in this contest, let alone the trend toward saving more.


Friday, May 17, 2013

The Worst that Could Happen

You know: a long time ago I swore off blogging about Global Warming because it's like blogging against witchcraft or against alien abduction.  That is: it's not so much that the ideas are false or corny or crazy but that the people you have to convince they are wrong are actually the ones who give the internet a bad name. You wind up fighting over things which are simply irrelevant to the actual question which have to be answered.

But: I think I have one last magnum opus on this subject to spill out, and I'm posting it today.  bookmark for future reference.

The Next Big Thing in the Climate Change discussion is this video, the author of which has expanded his ideas into a self-published book. It's titled "the Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See."  have a look ...


Right?  The critical moment in the video is this one, right around 4:28:


For those who didn't watch the video, or those who can't make out what's going on here, Greg Craven has put up a simple risk/benefit analysis of the question of Global Warming.  I'll clean it up for you, here:


Greg's point, at the end of it all is that the risks of the 4th quadrant outweigh the benefits of all the other quadrants.  That is: effectively, the worst possible outcome if we are wrong is far worse than the best possible outcome if we are wrong.  He's literally saying that if we do nothing, and Global Warming is true, it is the end of the world and we will all suffer and/or die.

My first observation is this: I suspect that Greg is vaguely acquainted with Pascal's Wager -- because plainly: this is a type of it.  So my first question for the person pointing to Greg's book/video is this: if we your point is that this is convincing regarding Global Warming, do you accept the same argument in favor of the existence of God and what you should do about that.  If their answer is any version of, "well, no ..." then I'm not sure why I should accept Greg's argument here for the worst case scenario.  Logic should be portable and convincing, not convenient.

But let's assume that we're all sure that this kind of reasoning is valid enough for the sake of solving the problem.  That is: we can use a risk analysis like this to size up our options and take the most prudent option -- even if we know that it might be wrong, it's the one where the risk of loss is minimized and the cost is therefore worth avoiding the worst case.

Is Greg's table a fair representation of the circumstances we find ourselves in?

Well, I'm willing to concede to him everything except the block in yellow, below:


Is the cost of making the right-sized correction Globally to fix the carbon emissions problem "only" Global depression?  Well, that begs the question: "What must we do, exactly, to make the correction?"

It's an interesting question, and if you search the internet, there are a lot of places with a short list of things you can do to "help."  For example, About.com has a helpful "top 10" things list for those of you who are friends of the trees.  When you put it that way, of course it's only a mere inconvenience to fix GCC.

But it turns out that people we are really concerned about this have a different view.  The "short list" for those things will only slow the encroachment of the changes -- not stop them.  The Audubon Society says this:


And as a correction to that scenario, they say this is what we must do -- and pay attention to the list:


The clear, primary item we must accomplish to this objective is to stop burning things for the sake of producing energy.  In case you don't understand the effects of that prescription, they line it out for you in the ORANGE highlight: running vehicles, heating homes, running factories, lighting cities.  In case you can't interpolate, that also means running the internet, watching TV, having cell phones (or any kind of phones), and running medical equipment. EarthEasy.com has a great list of stuff they think will matter.

Now: to be fair to these folks, they do say they only want us to "decrease" our use of this stuff.  But let's ask a fair question: how far do we have to "reduce" the use here in order to meet the goals needed to impact the change in climate due to carbon emissions?

Here is where it gets very interesting.

Some of the more-moderate voices say that it's just a shift in technology away -- and we don't really need to bother with the math.  I think it turns out that Greg Craven is one of those guys.

But let me link you to the an opinion which is less third-way, from ThinkProgess.org:
The fact is that, as RealClimate has explained, we would need “an immediate cut of around 60 to 70% globally and continued further cuts over time” merely to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of CO2 – and that would still leave us with a radiative imbalance that would lead to “an additional 0.3 to 0.8ÂșC warming over the 21st Century.” And that assumes no major carbon cycle feedbacks kick in, which seems highly unlikely. 
We’d have to drop total global emissions to zero now and for the rest of the century just to lower concentrations enough to stop temperatures from rising. Again, even in this implausible scenario, we still aren’t talking about reversing climate change, just stopping it — or, more technically, stopping the temperature rise. The great ice sheets might well continue to disintegrate, albeit slowly.
I think you can see where I'm going, but let's walk this off so there are no fuzzy edges.  Let's assume 3 things for the sake of not making this view of things looking as bad as possible: (1) that Zero is an over-estimate, and the right number is 65% (the middle of 60-70%, as above) cut in carbon emissions, (2) the cut in emissions is a one-for-one cut to the Global economy, expressed as a percent, and (3) all values are adjusted to 1999 international dollars.

Here's the best-case scenario, using that sort of thinking: the global economy has to shrink from its current level of about $71.8 trillion down to about $25.13 trillion, which is the same as it was in 1987.  The problem with that, however, is that while that doesn't seem that bad, in 1987 there were "only" about 5 billion people in the world -- and now there are more than 7 billion.  That squeezes the GDP per capita in the world down from its current $10,261 to $3211 per capita.

That's not merely a "Global Depression."  That means what our friends at the Audubon Society says it means: reducing the use of cars, heating, factories, lights, medical equipment -- the whole lot -- by 65%.  This about the world using 65% less medicine, and warming 65% fewer homes in cold weather.  It mean using all vehicles 65% less immediately -- right now.  AND: we would have to sustain that reduced use for 300 years -- simply to avoid any further warming.

What it means is demonstrated graphically by this video, by Hans Rosling -- who is no friend of Climate Skepticism:



Scroll to about 3:05 and look at the world by nation in 1985 -- and mentally, draw a line at $3300.  Here's what that looks like:


Look at the nations below that line and ask yourself: is that the standard of living we are able to adopt, world-wide, and call that merely a 'depression'?"

So the right version of this chart looks like this:


It's not a choice between inconvenience and catastrophe: it is a serious and sober choice between believing in a mistake which costs us everything, and a mistake which, let's face it, will cost us everything.

Oversimplifying this question doesn't solve it, and minimizing the voodoo on either side of this argument doesn't help us at all.  If we are going to talk about this problem is any way, we have to do it is a way which reflects the real stakes in the outcome.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Biting the Bullet

I'm going to add an abbreviated version of this information to my standing post on Gun Crime and People, but I ran into an interesting response from someone in the last two weeks that I wanted to share and consider.

As you know, statistically, cars are 4X as likely as guns to kill people -- even though cars are highly-regulated, and and not designed to kill, but guns are (as we are told) only designed for the purpose of killing. That statistic ought to speak directly to the effectiveness of regulation in curbing deaths when all the regulations on cars are intended to make them safer, but that's just me thinking like a person with nothing to lose in this debate.

The response I got to that recently was this [paraphrased]:
That statistic is BS because it doesn't speak to usage.  Cars are used every day, and even if they are 99.999% safe and harmless, a death rate of 0.001% multiplied by hundreds of millions times every day of the year is going to cause a pretty high death result no matter what.  Because guns are used less-often than cars, of course they are going to seem safer.
To which I say: good point -- interesting analysis.  But: not as true as it looks on the surface.  There's a good way to measure the real effective death rate of Guns -- and that's by the number of bullets consumed every year.  I say "good" and not "easy" because the statistic regarding how many bullets are produced every year is a little slippery -- there's not a definitive number or industry statement to link to.  However, The NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation have reported that 10-12 billion rounds of ammo are produced domestically in the US every year, and there are billions more imported every year as well -- and those are the bullets sold at retail, not the bullets sold to the Military.  Let's use the low-ball number of 10 billion for the sake of this analysis.

So the first question is this: what's a reasonable assumption about how bullets are consumed?  Are all these bullets getting stock-piled, or are they getting used?  The right answer, of course, is "both," but I'd add a warning label to that answer: even a person who is stockpiling bullets in a pathological way is shooting in order to keep in marksmanship up, and to maintain his weapons.  But think about this:

10 billion bullets / 300 million guns =
34 bullets per gun

That's not a lot of bullets per gun -- it looks like someone shooting for practice maybe once per year.  At that rate, there isn't a lot of stockpiling going on.  But what that does mean is that almost all the bullets bought in a given year are being shot -- statistically speaking, if not actually.

So how many bullets a day are getting shot, statistically?

10 billion bullets / 365 days =
27.4 million bullets per day

Think about that: 27.3 million bullets per day.  Since there are roughly 26 fire arm homicides per day, that means that the rate of homicides per bullet is this:

26 homicides / 27.4 million bullets =
1 murder per 1 million bullets

Just to be utterly fair to our objector, here's the math for vehicular deaths per day:

85 deaths per day / 254 million vehicles =
1 death per 3 million vehicles

In that analysis, guess what?  Cars are safer than guns -- which should be a fantastic relief to everyone who has to get home from work today.  However: we are taking about the difference between an effective safety rate of 99.99991% (guns) and 99.99997% (vehicles) -- a difference of 0.00006%.

Let me put all of this into perspective for you: the odds of getting struck by lightning are 1/700,000 (according to National Geographics).  That means it's 4 times more likely to happen to you than being in a car accident.  But: it is 1.5 times more likely than you being killed by a bullet.

That's what we're talking about here when we're talking about guns, gun crime, and people: we're talking about laying down laws on the hundreds of millions of utterly-innocent gun owners for the sake of making the relatively-rare and already-illegal acts of the criminals somehow more illegal -- and more rare than lightning strikes.

Of course, when this gets out, President Obama many promise to legislate better weather.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Promised Land

CLICK TO ENLARGE
So here are some questions to ask about this information:

  • OK, seriously: if we adjust for inflation, and the rate of government growth in so-called "real dollars" is more than 4 times the rate of population growth, what in the name of heaven are we spending all that money on?
  • Since GDP increased 65% over the period in question, if that's the actual baseline for necessary government services, why is it true that the massive bulk of the growth in Federal Spending is not in services which support or accompany the change in GDP?
You may have more questions about this data.  Put them in the comments.

Monday, February 4, 2013

$14/hr full time More like $10.95/hr FT

There are lots of alarming statistics regarding the National Debt.  Here's one that doesn't get a lot of play: how many possible tax payers are there to pay for Government expenses?  Keep in mind that the number we're using for total Federal expenditures is $3.6 trillion, which is probably about $600 billion short of what the Government is on-track to spend in 2013.

One way to look at it is this way: the Census bureau says there are 113,146,000 households in the United States.  If every household is a potentially-taxable economic unit, then there is one tax-paying unit for every 2.65 people.  And with 113,146,000 tax paying units in the US, that means the average tax paying unit has to pay $31,818.00 in taxes to balance the books.  That doesn't seem catastrophic until you realize that the Median Household Income in 2012 was $ 45,018.00 -- meaning that the Median income minus the Average tax burden equals $13,200, or about $253 a week to live on.  Good luck with that.

Everyone who makes less than $ 45,018.00 is right now asking themselves who these other people are making more than that, but it gets worse that that.

While there may, in fact, be 113.2 million households in the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has something far worse to say about this situation.

UPDATED:  OUCH!!!!!

Holy Moley! I was looking straight at the data, and looking at all the labels, and I made a pretty serious mistake.  If you go here to the BLS data source, you will note -- as the crafty reader Trogdor did -- that the data is not expressed in millions of workers: it is expressed as a percent of the civilian labor force. So when we compare Jan 2009 to Jan 2013, and we see 65.7 - 63.6, the 2.1 there is a difference of 2.1%, not 2.1 million.

However, that said, the estimated civilian population over the age of 16 in the US today is roughly 249,140,000 (thx, census.gov).  That means the 63.6% is 158,204,012 -- which is actually better than the households number, not worse.

That fact mostly overturns all the real down-side of the crossed-out part, below.  And it always stings to have to post a retraction like this. Yikes. HOWEVER, if we do the math at 158.2 million taxpayers, that's still $22,755 per tax payer annually to break even on the current Federal expenditures.

The correction is noted, and paid for, and booked.




  They say that, as of January 2013, there are only 63.6 million people in the workforce.  See: they track that statistics month over month, and there's the table:

Values are expressed as millions
63.6 million people working for a paycheck in the United States.  That means there's only one potential tax payer for every 4.7 people in the US -- so about 20% of the population if we assume every single person with a job is a potentially-legitimate tax payer.

If there are only 63.6 million people working in the US, that means the average taxpayer has to pay -- get this now -- $ 56,604.00 to cover the expenses of the Federal Government.  As if the average person is making $ 56,604.00 per year.

"Yes, but," comes the rejoinder from the person who thinks the US Government doesn't have a spending problem but an income problem, "You haven't accounted for Corporate taxes here.  Corporations have to pay their fair share of taxes.  That should help out a LOT, because God knows that's where the real money is."

Well, see here: The highest level of all Corporate Profits after taxes in the last 5 years is only $1.7 trillion.  If we just told them to eat it and taxed all corporate profits at 100%, that would still leave a tax bill at the Federal level only of $1.9 trillion and force the average taxpayer to pay $29,875.00 in taxes. That's $14/hour at full-time.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Purple Wedge

Those of you who follow this on-again, off-again blog know that I have set as a target the problem of the US National debt.  That is: I don;t imagine I can solve it or pay it off myself, but I have been spouting some ideas about it which, I think, can help people think about the problem with their brains rather than their knees.  I'm on  a mission here against knee-jerks.

Anyway, you may have seen this chart from me in the past:


The green column is all sources of personal wages and income in the US; the blue/red column is all forms of Government spending -- Blue is Federal, Red is State and Local.  It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the left column is taller than the right column.  That's how we got into this fix of indebtedness: all of our governments are spending more money than we, as a people, actually take in by working.

Well: so what?  I mean: we could just give up, right, and say that there's no way to fix it without doing something crazy like slicing out a huge chunk of spending, or carving out a huge chunk of everyone's paycheck -- not just the 1%'ers.  Or maybe a mix of both -- all of which would be very painful.

But let's look at the Red block for a second -- State and Local expenses.  The US GAO has an outstanding page on the breakdown, nationally, of State and Local government expenditures.  There you can find this chart:

And let's do something with that Data from 2010: let's ask ourselves if there is anything in that pie which we should reconsider as money well-spent.

Let's assume "other" is too small a target and not spend 80% of our effort on 2% of the problem.  I can't imagine anyone really wants to cut funding the general public service (administration) or order & safety (police, fire, emergency response) as those are sort of fundamental to what it means to have a "government," it seems to me.  The item that kinda pops out at me, though, is the big Purple wedge at the top -- Education.  GAO says that creates 33% of all State and Local spending.  And the remarkable thing is that it doesn;t really cost the Federal Government anything -- the federal Government spends only about 2% of its total massive expenditures on education.

Now, think about this:  There is a 77% graduation rate nation-wide for High School -- about 1 in 4 people don't graduate.  Students in the current system rank below the middle of industrialized nations in overall reading, math and science scores -- and there is no other nation that spends more per student on public education.

We're talking about, in round numbers, $1 trillion dollars of money already being spent by various governmental entities -- which, on net, are failing to deliver what they promised.

So, here's my idea: let's not do that anymore.  Let's stop spending tax money on schools.

Seriously: if we reduced State and Local expenditures by $1 trillion and rolled every nickel of it into Federal spending -- earmarked specifically for paying down the deficit -- we could have the complete deficit paid down in about 17 years.  And as a bonus: nobody's net taxes would go up a penny.  We would all pay exactly the same as we do today, and we'd pay off the debt so that the next generation could roll out debt-free.

Thoughts?