Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A tale of two parties

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Two quotes from today:

“a senior Democratic senator” as quoted in the Hill:

Democratic lawmakers said they will be in a stronger position to offer tax increases after agreeing to between $30 billion and $61 billion in discretionary spending cuts for the rest of 2011.

“We Democrats have demonstrated that we’re willing to make these cuts; we’ve gone over halfway. Are they being so unreasonable to say we can’t raise any revenues?” said the senator.

Representative Mike Pence, as quoted in the Washington Post:

Also Thursday, several vet­eran Republicans spoke to a gathering of 200 or so tea party supporters in an event near the Capitol. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said compromising with Democrats would send a signal of weakness on what he considered the paramount issue of spending and debt.

“By picking a fight and winning this one small step towards fiscal discipline, the American people will see…that we can fight and we can win,” Pence said. He finished his speech with, “Let’s go pick a fight!”


The Democrats may or may not be winning the fight for public opinion, but the Republicans are clearly winning the policy fight.


the government we deserve

Monday, August 10th, 2009

All I can say is that if we let these idiots sink health insurance, we'll have the government we deserve.  (tip to BitchPhD for the link)

T flips out every time we hear a news story about the crazy claims people are making about health insurance, because of the problem of source amnesia:  people who hear a story that says "scientists have conclusively debunked claims that the moon is made of green cheese" are as likely several weeks later to think the story said "the moon is made of green cheese" as what it really did say.  The White House has posted a whole "Reality Check" website, but it's not clear that the people who are susceptible to the misinformation that's out there will ever see it, or be swayed by it.

Over the weekend, the NY Times had some fascinating data on who is paying attention to the health care debate.  Interestingly, Republicans were far more likely to paying close attention.  My theory is that the Dems who really are passionate about health care are more likely to support single payer models, and so aren't getting as engaged in the debate.  That's a mistake.  I'd like to see single payer myself, but it's not happening, and while none of the proposals out there are perfect, they are a heck of a lot better than what we have now.

What I'm uncertain of is whether it's worth falling on our swords over a public option.  I think there should be one, but I really don't know enough about health insurance to know if it's truly essential.  And there are people I trust on both sides of the "is it essential?" debate.  From a purely political perspective, while it's looking less and less likely that there will be some sort of centrist agreement on a health care proposal, I think it would look really bad if there was one and the Dems killed it because it didn't have a public option. 

Certainly, if we're going to wind up passing health care without a single Republican vote (which is starting to seem possible), it had darned well better include a public option.

State budgets

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Almost every state is facing severe budget deficits.  California's hole is particularly gruesome, equal to more than half of its total budget, but there are a bunch of states that have deficits equal to 20-30 percent of their budgets.

In the 80s and 90s, conservatives had this notion that by limiting taxes, or making it necessary to win a popular vote to raise them, you could control the size of government.  (Hence Norquist's line about making government small enough to drown in a bathtub.)  But it's turned out that while people hate taxes, they generally like government services, and what they really like is government services AND low taxes.  With property values rising, governments could cut property tax rates, still bring in more money than before, expand services, and make everyone happy.  With property values falling, and every dollar already squeezed out of gimmicks like selling off future toll revenues, there's not a lot of options other than raising taxes, cutting services, or both.

Here in Virginia, we don't seem to be doing too bad (other than the legislature's boneheaded refusal to take up the Unemployment Insurance money from the stimulus bill). Our deficit is ONLY about 11 percent of the budget.  There are certainly cuts on the table, but thanks to the stimulus dollars coming down, the really ugly education cuts we were expecting were avoided.  In the scheme of things, I can live with having to exit the highway and go to McDonald's to use the bathroom instead of using a public rest stop.  The roads are getting bumpier, and the library hours have been cut.

In a possibly related note, I got my first ticket ever yesterday, for failure to stop before making a right on red.  There were about six officers there, and they were just pulling people over one after another.  Given that it was a T-intersection, with no oncoming traffic, it's hard to see this as other than a revenue measure.  It's a $50 ticket — with a $62 processing fee.

Plan A

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

This week's This American Life is called Plan B and it starts with Ira Glass talking about how almost all of us are living in our Plan B, what we did when what we originally meant to do didn't work.

I'm not sure, but I think I'm more or less living in my Plan A.  I mean, if you had asked me in high school or college what I wanted to be, I might have said an astronaut, or a writer, or a lawyer, but I never made more than a half-assed attempt at any of them.* I got as far as writing away for law school catalogs, but as soon as I read in them about the existence of JD/MPP programs, and thus the existence of such a thing as public policy school, it was clear that was a much better fit.  And I'm married to someone I met when I was 18.

I'm very aware of how lucky I've been, and I'm grateful.  But I also think I might need a new goal, a new Ithaka to look for.  I think maybe I'll pull my copy of Barbara Sher's wonderful book Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want  (now in its 30th year in print) from the shelves and see what inspires me. 

*I went to space Camp, worked on the less serious of the two college papers for a couple of semesters, and took the LSATs.

TBR: Traffic

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Ok so it's Thursday not Tuesday, but I wanted to post about this book while I still remember the points I wanted to make.  This week's book is Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), by Tom Vanderbilt.  It's an engaging book, about something that most of us do, but generally don't think much about. 

While there's a bunch of different examples in the book, it mostly comes down to two main arguments:

  • Things designed to keep us safe while driving (divided highways,  signs, seat belts) mostly have the effect of making us FEEL safe, thereby encouraging us to act in more risky ways.  We're probably more safe when we feel a bit less safe, and thus drive slower and pay more attention.
  • There's a huge correlation between risky driving and other risky behaviors.  The people who are mostly likely to speed are least likely to be persuaded to wear a seat belt just because it's the law.

My neighborhood email list has been having endless discussions of traffic calming, with people getting extremely heated about the possibility of speed bumps.  Vanderbilt suggests that the best way to slow people down is to have lots of people walking along the roads, using the median, etc.  And it's certainly true that I slow WAY down when I see the neighborhood kids riding their bikes in the street.   But I'm not real happy about having my kids act as human speed bumps.  (There are no sidewalks in our part of the neighborhood.  And they did in fact come closer than I'd like to getting squashed by a garbage truck while waiting for a school bus the other day.)

So, I thought the book was interesting.  But I'm not quite sure what to do with the information it gave me.

One more day

Monday, January 19th, 2009

At last year's office holiday party, I won in the gift swap a keychain that counted down the number of days until Bush left office.  At the time, the number was horrifyingly large, but we're down to less than a day now.  (The keychain died sometime last summer, frozen somewhere in the 150s.)

I lucked into a pair of tickets for the swearing in ceremony, so T and I will go.  I gave D the opportunity to come with me, but the idea of standing in the cold for 5 hours didn't appeal to him, so we got a sitter.  We're not leaving the house until 7 am, so I don't expect to be able to see much, but I got a kick out of just wandering around the mall on Sunday, even though we were in the group shut out when they closed the checkpoints.

Great discussion of This Land is Your Land — and the fact that Pete included the "private property" verse — over at Crooked Timber.

T pointed out to me tonight this Onion article from January 2001:

"During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to
the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring
citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed
conflict in the next four years….

"On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation
by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession,
which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in
consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the
recession even further."

It's time for some change.

testing use of a page rather than a post

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Does this show up on my RSS feed?


Saturday, December 31st, 2005

Just before the holidays, I was looking at my referrers, and found this list of tags from, which led me to frugal for life, which led me to a Carnival of Personal Finance, which led me to this post about holiday gift-giving, where the author suggests that you exchange money, and then surprise your "giver" by showing them what you bought with the money. 

Economists hate gift-giving.  Not because they’re cheap, but because they believe that whenever someone buys you a gift that isn’t exactly what you would have purchased with that amount of money, some possible happiness is lost from the system.  (More formally, they say that things are bought for some price that the receiver values at less than the money paid.)  An economist thinks that the perfect gift is cash, followed closely by purchase of the exact item that the recipient has requested.

Miss Manners would be horrified.  As she wrote last week:

"By coming up with the cash gift, the gift certificate and the gift registry, it said, in effect, "Fine, get your own %#$@ presents." All the work of giving was eliminated, leaving only the expense. The possibility of disappointment was eliminated entirely, barring a rebellion on the part of the targeted donors, who so far seem to be meekly complying with demands."

"The perfect system, many believe. Apparently they failed to notice that something else that got eliminated: the entire point of exchanging presents."

I fall closer to Miss Manners in this debate.  The only people I ever give gift certificates to are cousins whose Bar or Bat Mitzvahs I’ve been invited to.  I don’t know them well enough to know what they’d like, and they have sufficiently little discretionary income that a gift card to Amazon can really make a difference in their ability to get the things they want.  By contrast, none of the adults with whom I exchange gifts have such tight budgets that the amount that I’d give to them would make a noticable impact.

At the same time, the single most awkward moment in my relationship with my in-laws was several years ago when they sent me for my birthday present a painting that I really didn’t like.  My usual Miss Manners-approved response to such gifts is to thank the giver and then stuff the item in the back of the closet.   But this was both too big and too expensive to do so.  So I had to tell them, and have it returned.  Ouch.


Friday, October 1st, 2004

In her comments on Tuesday’s post, Amy raised the issue of grandparents providing child care for children, and specifically whether this was compatible with the idea of delayed retirement floated by the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

A few thoughts:

First, the Committee on Aging is a “special” committee, which means that it doesn’t have jurisdiction over any real legislation. (Most of the programs that affect the elderly are under the jurisdiction of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP, Committee.) So its hearings are an opportunity for Senators to bring in some witnesses and jawbone about issues affecting the elderly, so they can write letters to their constituents saying how hard they’re working to protect them. Or, phrased somewhat less cynically, it’s an opportunity to raise the profile of issues in order to build public support for action.

Second, it’s clearly true that more and more people are going to be working past the traditional retirement age of 65. For one thing, 65-year-olds are more likely to be healthy and not to think of themselves as elderly. For another thing, most people can’t afford to retire at 65. This is especially true if you have — as most workers now do — defined contribution retirement plans (e.g. 401(k)s) rather than defined benefit plans. If you retire at 65, the odds are quite high that you will outlive your savings.

(Do you know the story of how the retirement age was set? It dates back to Bismarck in Germany. He wanted to offer pensions, but he didn’t want it to cost a lot, and his actuaries told him that most people were dead by 70, so that was set as the retirement age. It was eventually lowered to 65.)

Third, not all grandparents are in their 60s or older. Many are in their 40s or 50s — and this is especially true among low-income grandparents. (Age at first birth is highly correlated with education, and thus with income.)

Fourth, looking into the question of grandparent child care led me to this recent Child Trends Research Brief. Using some recent national surveys, they found that 47 percent of grandparents with grandchildren living nearby provided some sort of child care assistance. (Grandmothers provided child care more often and for more hours than grandfathers, but over 1/3 of grandfathers with grandchildren nearby provided child care.) Interestingly, employed grandparents were more likely to provide child care than those who were unemployed or retired. Presumably, this is because employed grandparents are less likely to have a serious health condition that precludes both work and child care.

So, while I agree with Amy’s general point that many members of Congress don’t have a clue about the lives of low-income parents, I’m not convinced that this hearing was evidence of it.

As for me, my parents live 300 miles away, and my husband’s are even further. After visiting my family last weekend, and watching my 3 1/2-year-old interact with his grandparents and aunts and uncles, I started having thoughts about moving back to NY. Then I saw the real estate section of the New York Times, and was brought crashing down to reality.