Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Austerity: Example - Greece

I know I have been lacking in posting new things for a little while but I'll make up for it in the next few days.  Here is an article from the Washington Post that gives a bit of insight in the "new" trend of fiscal policy: austerity.

Greece as an example

I will have a more in-depth analysis on the issue of austerity some time in the future :/

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Voting: A Democratic Right?

Voting is the premise of a democratic society.  I'm sure that almost everyone, from any political affiliation, will agree to the previous statement.  And it's hard to forget the "Get Out the Vote" commercials and various other initiatives at attempting to have more people participate in the political process.  So then why would a country that prides itself on freedom, continually mentioned as the greatest country in the world and the backbone of democracy across the world, be trying to take it away from its own people?  It just doesn't make sense!

Now don't get me wrong, it's not the whole country suppressing the vote; only 13 (+4 that have had it for some time) states so far have passed legislation or had executive orders recently (that I am aware of, there are more than likely other states) that created obstacles for voting, restricted voter eligibility, restricted two popular programs: absentee and early voting, and made it more difficult to restore voting rights to current tax payers that were previously convicted of a felony.

So who are the culprits?
In case it's hard to see:
Using photo ID requirements: Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and back in 2006 Indiana started this whole thing.
Proof of citizenship requirements: Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Arizona.
Restrictions on voter registration: Ohio, Texas, Florida, Maine, and Wisconsin.
Restrictions on early and absentee voting: Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia.
Reversal of voter eligibility for prior felons (Now they are ineligible): Iowa and Florida.  Kentucky and Virginia impose life-long denial of the right to vote to all citizens with a felony record.

Just from looking at the map, it seems pretty clear that the majority, or at least the trend for these voter suppression laws, is centered around the southern states.  Looking at these states made me curious to find out the political leadership of each of them.  Here is what I came up with:

In the seventeen states that are in the above spreadsheet, all but two have Republican Governors (Chafee is a special case because he is a former Republican that ran as an Independent).  Also, the majority in the state legislatures is almost all Republican, except for in Rhode Island, West Virginia, the senate in Virginia and Iowa, and the house in Kentucky.  But even then, Democrats in West Virginia, Iowa, and Kentucky are hardly anything close to being left-wing; more so they are very centrist and on occasion, have the same mentality as those on the right (as can be seen by the voter suppression laws).

Some may ask, why these states?  Well my answer is fairly simple: elections!  The 2012 presidential election is coming up soon and a good deal of the battleground states (states that could be going for either party, a toss-up if you will) have enacted voter suppression laws.  Let's have a peak at these states.  Florida, the deciding factor in the 2000 election, is featured prominently here.  Without Florida, the Democrats have a very small chance of winning the 2012 election, but with it it is almost a certainty of a win.  Ohio, also featured prominently here, is the other large battleground state. Winning Ohio and another battleground state will give the Democrats the win.  Wisconsin and Iowa, also battleground states, have passed voter suppression laws.  What do these four states have in common?  If you can see from the chart above, they all have a Republican Governor and a Republican majority in the state legislature.

Voter suppression this and vote suppression that..yadda yadda yadda.  Who does it target???  Minorities, the working class, the elderly, immigrants, and former felons.  I know not many people have warm feelings for former felons but everyone deserves a second chance, especially when their basic right is being taken away from them.  You can now see why voter suppression laws were passed!  A lot of Democratic support stems from minorities, the working class, and immigrants.  And by taking it away from their rival party, they are essentially trying to secure the election by denying people their right to vote.  The elderly are more or less SOL (shit out of luck).  The photo ID requirement is one of those things that stops people from voting because many do not have a government issued ID; since many elderly do not drive anymore, they have no need for a driver's license and do not have a mode of convenient transportation to obtain a photo ID to be able to vote.  The same goes for the working class, a good number cannot afford cars and therefore do not feel they need a driver's license.

Now I will present to you the WTF moment of the year.  The Wisconsin budget battle has had national attention for a long time now but what has not been highly reported is what they means for voters.  With the photo ID law passed in Wisconsin, its citizens must obtain a government issued ID to vote.  But the governor has done a clever (purely objective) but not yet illegal thing: he closed down DMV / MVA buildings in Democratic districts where citizens go and get their photo IDs, while keeping the DMVs / MVAs in Republican districts running in order to make it harder for what seems like Democratic voters to get their photo ID so they can vote.  One obstacle after another.  What the governor is pretty much saying without actually saying it is "Screw you!" to the people that did not vote for him.  And thus he is participating in the rigging of the 2012 presidential election.  How a lawsuit hasn't come out of this I do not know, but this is clearly disenfranchising a certain part of the population of the right to vote...the most basic right in a democratic society.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Class Conflict: Part Three

E is for everyone,
Q is for quality of life,
U is for you and me,
A is for activism,
L is for living conditions,
I is a sensory organ...hehe but really, it is for interdependency,
T is for transportation,
Y is this still such a conflicting issue?

But what does equality mean?  According to it is:
The state of being equal; correspondence in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability.
So let's see if this is really the case for people in the United States...
Equality of quantity: A definite and resounding no.  You can compare wealth, resources, opportunity, and respect between the working class and the upper class; with upper class having more of everything.  The first two of the four on the list being compared can have no argument whatsoever; it is well known and documented and just plain logical that the wealthy have more wealth (duh) and resources than the working class.  Having  more money and contacts in high paying employment due to parental connections and friends of the same economic class leads to better employment opportunities and educational opportunities.  Sure there are plenty of examples of a working class kid going to Harvard or Yale, but the majority of students admitted to these Ivy League universities are wealthy to begin with.  
Now the last aspect being compared, respect, is the most difficult to quantify and explain.  Here's a hypothetical situation (although still hypothetical, it is not far from the realm of possibility): the upper class kid becomes a fund manager at T. Rowe Price and the working class kid becomes a bus driver for the MTA.  Leaving everything else aside, who gets more respect?  The upper class kid has a white collar job that provides him with $162,911 yearly pay which includes base salary, bonuses, and benefits, according to  The working class kid has a blue collar job that pays about $35,608 on average, including base salary, bonuses, and all benefits, according to  The two people could have the exact same personality, appearance, and demeanor...heck everything can be equally the same about them except for the employment they have.  I think it is easy to speculate that the fund manager gets more respect because of his higher total salary.  People will say he worked very hard, is a great guy, and they look up to him.  The bus driver most likely will not get the same praise because his pay is much smaller, people feel that anyone can do his job, and people do not want their children to become bus drivers because they feel their kids can do much better.  Now therein lies the problem to this whole question of equality, in terms of respect.  The fund manager gets more respect because his pay is much higher, but does his work take more heart or effort? NO.  An active fund manager picking stocks has the same chance of getting it right than a monkey picking stocks.  α (alpha) is the measure of a portfolio's performance on a risk-adjusted basis; so a portfolio with high returns and high risk can perform worse than a portfolio with lower returns and lower risk.  It has been documented that a monkey throwing darts onto a board filled with stock names did as well as those stocks picked by so called experts.  Not to mention that passive trading is easier and in the long run, no matter how active a fund manager is, he or she will almost certainly not out perform an index (Dow Jones Industrial, NASDAQ, or S&P 500).  So what I am saying is that the chance of added value that a fund manager gives you is minuscule at best; it is better if people just bought exchange-traded funds (ETF) because the long-term outcome will be the same, but you will also not have paid someone to manage your investments for you, so in essence you are saving money.  Getting back to the respect you can see, a fund manager does not really do so much yet gets a lot of respect.  The bus driver has a long grueling day driving people around the city, with a defunct air conditioner most likely and some people yelling at him.  He gets more stress than the fund manager and is also responsible for getting people to work or other places on time.  So who here does more for society: a man who does something that can be done more easily and cost effective by people or a man who gets people where they need to go everyday.  Think about that the next time you get on a bus.
Equality of degree: Not really sure what this means or how I can apply it.  Maybe some help please?
Equality of value: I believe this is suggesting that everyone have the same amount of wealth and/or money.  While it would be a good experiment, I'm sure that most people would disagree with having the same amount of wealth as everyone else.
Equality of rank: This is impossible in any situation.  In relation to economic classes, it can be done but as stated just above, most people would not want it.  In relation to labor and government, it cannot be done.  No matter what a person does for employment, he or she cannot be the same rank as everyone else in his or her place of employment.  Let's have an example of a construction worker.  The worker creates buildings, a fine job no doubt.  But across the construction site there's the foreman.  The foreman outranks the worker because he is in charge of all the construction workers.  Should there be a case that the foreman and the construction workers have the same rank, then what need would there be to even have a foreman.  There needs to be someone in the leadership of the construction project for it to be completed because orders have to be given in a direct and concrete manner for the project to be built correctly.  Also, the accountant in the construction office has a different rank than the worker or foreman and that really can't be changed because they perform different duties.
Equality of ability: Can't be done.  Some people are naturally better than others in various things.  Some people know how to solve problems better than others; some are faster and stronger than others; some are smarter than others...the list goes on because you cannot teach someone to attain the same ability as everyone else, it just cannot be done.
Until next time.  Good luck!        

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Class Conflict: Part Deux

So instead of the daily update, I decided it would be easier to have it be a weekly thing instead.

Fairness...AH AH AH.  Fairness has 8 letters; let's count with me.  One, Two, Three..Eight...AH AH AH.  Now that the Count has educated the young on their numbers, we shall proceed.

There are many thoughts on what fairness means, because as most things, it is in the eye of the beholder.  My definition is that people should be treated equally and based upon their situation, they should contribute what they can to help the whole.

In relation to schools, is it fair to accept someone over another because of family history and the ability to pay for the education?  Of course not!  Family legacies should not even be slightly considered when debating whether to accept an applicant or not.  Money should also not be part of the decision for the acceptance committee.  If the applicant gets accepted then he or she should be given all the financial help possible because otherwise only wealthy children will be given a highly rated (and expensive) education as opposed to those children who are more qualified, in terms of merit.

Fairness in relation to taxes, government services, employment opportunities, and housing opportunities strike are at the center of class conflicts around the world.

The average person in the United States has probably experienced or at least heard of the above mentioned dimensions of fairness.  Sure we all want our taxes to be lower than they are now, who doesn't (disregarding the consequences of such actions)?  This is probably the first folly.  What do taxes pay for?  A lot of important services that are essential for people to live their lives without having to worry about if the next day they will have food on their table, or even a table at all.

So then the average American will ask: "Why do I have to pay more taxes (as a % of my income) than my neighbor who earns less than I do.  It should be equal".  The answer is fairly simple...individuals who make just enough to survive cannot handle the burden to pay more taxes or they will starve and or go bankrupt.

Let me show an example:  Pretend that the tax rate is 25% of income for everyone.  Bobby makes $80,000 a year and will have to pay $20,000 in taxes, so he is left with $60,000 to do with as he likes.  Mary is making $250,000 a year and will have to pay $62,500 in taxes and will be left with $187,500.  Jerry is making $20,000 a year and has to pay $5,000 in taxes and will be left with $15,000.  Can Bobby survive and have a good life with a house, car, and other things...yes.  Can Mary have the same..of course!  She will probably have a lot more too.  Can Jerry live a good  The $20,000 he makes is barely enough for the rent, car (if he even has one..most likely relies on public transportation for all of his transportation needs...which is fine but it can be unreliable), and then food on top of that.  I think it's fair to assume that there is a problem with the situation presented here.

So why does a progressive tax system work?  The people who can afford to pay more taxes, do...and the people who cannot afford to pay much or any taxes pay less or none at all.  It releases the burden on the less well-off so they can provide for themselves as much as they can.  If it is not enough, the government has a duty to help this individual or family so they can live productive lives.  Is Mary going to miss a couple extra thousand dollars..possibly, but surely a lot less than Bobby and most importantly Jerry.

The one factor that people arguing against a progressive tax system can not understand is that the people that are well-off are just that, because of the system that is currently in place.  It would be only fair that the people that benefit from our system and live well-off lives should pay a little more for their own lifestyle.
(Corporate taxes will be discussed in a later blog post, possibly in a month or so)

Government services are also part of the fairness debate.  For those who cannot completely provide for themselves, the government must step in and provide.  The problems associated with doing nothing far outweigh the cost of providing for the people.  Food stamps are the perfect example.  For a family that lives close to the poverty line or below it, food stamps are essential to the health of both children and parent(s). How will the children get nutrition if their parent(s) pay-check is mostly being used for rent and transportation?  To lessen the negative externalities (effects) of a case where this happens, the government must step in so the cost to society and to people is minimized.  Who wants starving children with health problems?  It could have all been avoided; the children would be well fed and healthy and society would not have the burden of taking care of the sickly if money was given to the parent(s) to buy food for their children.

Employment opportunities were the base cause of the Winter of Discontent in the Middle East.  Young people could not obtain work, simple as that.  The same problem is creeping up in the US also, although it is still in its early stages here.  Employers must be fair in regards to hiring everyone; one group cannot be singled out of all hiring because it will lead to protests, possibly lawsuits, and terrible public relations...not to mention just how plainly wrong it is to discriminate while hiring.  Corporations and sometimes governments have to be fair to the people and give them employment opportunities or civil unrest may occur. (I have more to say on this but at a later time)

Housing opportunities were about a 1/3 to a 1/2 of the reasons Israel had its demonstrations and is also picking up steam in the US.  The property prices in Israel have been going up so much that many people cannot afford to purchase a home or even pay rent in their neighborhoods anymore.  The rich can do what they want because they can pay for it...a vacation home in Eilat..sure why not..which brings up property values, making it hard for people that already live in that city to purchase a home there.  In the US, it has to do more with access and schools.  Property taxes are the main source of school funding, so it's fairly easy to see that the more prominent an area, the better the schools (better funded schools usually have better results, although there are other aspects to consider).  It's also safe to assume that a parent wants his or her child to go to a good school.  So how does the child have access to the good schools....he or she must live in the designated school area.  The school area is filled with expensive homes and little to no affordable housing for the parent(s) of the child to move into so that their child can attend this good school.  Is it fair to exclude people from a good education simply because they cannot afford to live in an area..of course not!  Every person should have access to a good education if he or she desires and they should not be limited based on the amount of money he or she (or his or her parents earn) or based on where they live.

Next week I'll dig into equality,


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Class Conflict (3 day event)

London riots, Israeli demonstrations, The Arabian Winter of Discontent, even the quiet frustrations Americans are harboring ...they all have one central issue: A want for opportunity, fairness, and equality.

What, you thought times have changed?  Don't kid yourself.  Since the beginning of modern civilization (I would start with the Romans, mostly because I do not have sufficient knowledge of the lives of previous peoples to make an accurate argument) the economic and social classes of the people have given way to conflict.  Plebes had to seek patronage from their rich counterparts in order to obtain loans, get legal counsel, and settle disputes, among other things.  How did the patrons get to be so rich?  It could be any number of reasons: inheritance, rising through the military ranks and conquering other lands, appointment to public office (Quaestor, Praetor, Aedile, Censor, or Governor) by the Senate or Emperor, or cunning business skill that very few possess, yet everyone wants.  Three out of these four deal with your status when you are born.  Your parents die and leave you their inheritance.  For the most part, the only officers in the Roman legions were those from noble families.  To run for public office, the man needed a lot of money to sustain the costs associated with it and unless you had rich parents to begin with, it is impossible to obtain the coin needed to make such a run.  The patrons would want votes for public office in return for supporting the plebes.  Who would say no to a rich man that helped you out, only a fool.

But I digress...      

Everyone wants to get into a great school, find a good job, and live in a nice neighborhood...right?  It's the classic American Dream we've heard so much about.  And yet, it is still a dream for many Americans.  School tuition has increased so much that those without rich parents may not even get the chance to go a university.  If he or she does get accepted and decides to go, the student loans he or she will have to pay-off will haunt him or her for the next 20-30 years.  And since student loans are not subject to default, collection agencies that will be given your loan will start nibbling it from your wages until it is all collected with interest of course.  Then again, higher education has become a joke.

Finding a good job is very difficult if you don't have a good education (paradox anyone?)  What you are paying for in education is really just contacts and connections in order to find a job you want.

Good luck finding a nice place to live without the great job you so desired.

It all comes down to if your parents had the money to send you to a good university or you were somehow lucky enough to get in and pay for it then you would have access to good employment opportunities.  Sound familiar?

Tomorrow I'll continue with the word of the day: Fairness