Friday, December 31, 2004

We will ask for recounts until we like the result...

Stefan Sharkansky is a member of a group blog called Sound Politics. That blog is describing a problem that has come up in the n'th recount for the election for Governor of Washington state.

It seems that after counting a significant number of ballots that were "discovered" after the election, the Democrat candidate Christine Gregoire now has a lead over the Republican, Dino Rossi. Now the Democrats are satisfied and asking for this "voter ordeal" to end.

The problem Sharkansky writes about? Seems there are now more ballots than voting voters in certain precincts. It seemed vaguely fishy to me when they kept "finding" new, uncounted ballots in the heavily Democrat King county, around the city of Seattle. I sure hope it is harder to "find" hidden paper records of voter participation.

The elections in this country are a mess and need to be cleaned up. If it takes making it way harder to cast absentee ballots, I would not mind.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

What do they mean by "Social Security taxes may have to be raised...?"

I am not sure what exactly the pundits and politicians mean when they say that Social Security taxes **MAY** have to be raised in the future to pay for benefits promised to retirees drawing benefits at that time.

I thought taxes were already raised. See this table and explanation at
Answer 481: What is the maximum amount of taxable earnings for each year? from the Social Security website.

For the sake of simplicity and my blood pressure, let us just assume the tax rate was constant. But that tax rate was applied to the following wage levels at some sample years:

Year . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Top Social Security Wages

1980 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$25,900
1985 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$39,600
1990 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$51,300
1995 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .$61,200
2000 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $76,200
2005 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $90,000

To my tired eyeballs, that looks like the Social Security tax paid by a single individual changed by, again, approximately :

- UP 20% in just 5 years between 2000 and 2005!
- UP 50% in just 10 years between 1995 and 2005
- UP 80% between 1990 and 2005
- UP 300% between 1980 and 2005

Those are already whopping tax increases. Do we hear about these increases when this topic is treated to the "both sides debate" format on TV? Does anyone mention this?

Why not?!

So, I ask, what exactly do the politicians mean when they say "Taxes may have to be raised in the future..." ?


Friday, December 17, 2004

John Kerry and Moral Values

I have not written about the election at all. But I did read a lot of opinions about the poll where a large percentage of voters said that "moral values" were the most important influence on their vote. I interpret that answer this way.

Senator Kerry spent 4 months in Vietnam. During that time, he was wounded thrice. Two of those three wounds were more like accident wounds than combat wounds. By all accounts, he fought hard to get those "upgraded" to qualify him for the Purple Heart status. Soldiers with 3 Purple Heart medals were eligible to ask to return home BEFORE their tour of duty (one year) ended. As soon as he was eligible, Sen. Kerry signed up to come home.

There is more than a whiff of cynicism and selfishness in Sen. Kerry's behavior in that story. Not quite the material that heroes are made of.

The USA has fielded a large military for a long time, and been involved all over the world for decades in "hot wars". There must be millions of voters that were servicemen or their immediate family circle--a son, a daughter, a cousin, a niece. Throw in some more millions who know a neighbor who served, or a close office colleague, and that is a huge chunk of the electorate!

I have no close relatives or friends who served in the military. Still, I thought his actions were dishonorable, even if understandable, for a young man. Could it not be that some of those connected to veterans felt that shiver of revulsion at the cynicism and opportunism, and decided to vote against Sen. Kerry?

If pressed to come up with a short "buzz-phrase" to describe what was uppermost on their mind as they voted, they rattled off a convenient phrase: moral values

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Child of InstaPundit

InstaPundit is a big inspiration for me. I am not sure I even need to say this...

If I even come up with one entry per day, though, I will be satisfied!

Don't blame me, I did not read the bill I voted for...

Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) writes in the Washington Post about something that has always bothered me. He is expressing support for measures that will "encourage" Congress-members to read the legislation before they vote on it.

Last Saturday both the House and Senate voted to give the Appropriations Committee chairmen and their staff unrestricted access to the income tax returns of ordinary Americans. This extraordinary opportunity for privacy invasion does not have the majority support of either chamber, and the embarrassed Republican leadership quickly vowed to remove it.

But how did this dangerous provision pass Congress in the first place? The answer is simple: Members didn't have enough time to read the bill.


To prevent such abuses, House rules for the 109th Congress should insist that members have a minimum of three days to read legislation before voting and, further, that any waiver of this requirement require a two-thirds vote of the full House.

I think they should go further. Why not have one mandatory day of reading time for every 100 pages? If it slows them down from adding more and more laws on top of the existing pile, I will not complain.

Don't even get me started on requiring them to do their own taxes.

A Salute to My Guru

For my first post here, I want to salute my guru (Hindi for teacher), Dr. Thomas Sowell.

I first came across his columns in Forbes magazine 15 years ago. Those days I remember trying to make sense of an entry in my paychecks with the name "FICA", and a hefty cut. I decided to look it up in the library and was pointed to the Economics and Politics section in Non-Fiction. There I saw many of his books on the same shelves. I learnt about the mess that is the US Social Security system. But I also picked up a few of Dr. Sowell's books and learnt a lot more about the overlapping spheres of economics, politics, and public policy. To my considerable surprise, I understood and enjoyed reading these books!

His columns helped me understand the hotly debated issues of the day in politics. Using his background as an economics professor and a desire to help us understand the issues, he stripped them of their emotional labels, and showed the economic impact of policies on various players. When these ideas became accessible to me, I found myself enjoying the experience. I even picked up and read some books on economics (!) at the layman's level, books like these at the Armchair Economics Reading List. (Hat tip: Trader Mike mentioned it in the Carnival of the Capitalists )

(Even now, I hesitate to admit I like reading about economics. It is not going to earn me any "cool points" in my IT circles. "Yo, keep it on the down low, bro!")

He showed me a framework of basic economic ideas I could build on. That is why I can say everything I know about politics and economics I owe to his writing. Maybe he will see this salute and make time to meet me someday. Professor?