Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Sense of Cloture

I have been hearing for years now about how the Republicans have been obstructionists in the face of progress in Congress. There have been numerous reports in blogs and seemingly reputable news sources that the Republicans in the Senate have had a record number of filibusters since they became the minority party. The claims that "80% of the bills were filibustered", and the like, have been a constant drum beat by the left. But does it hold up to scrutiny?

Well, no. Of course it doesn't. To begin with the civics challenged news media has made the very basic failure of equating cloture votes with filibusters. Cloture is a vote on a bill in which, with a super majority, the Senate agrees to cease debate on a bill and bring it to a vote. Filibusters are, in simple terms, a indefinite extension of debate following a failed vote on cloture. Cloture kills a filibuster.

Following so far? Good. Well, cloture is not just to end a filibuster. Cloture is also enacted when there is such an overwhelming support for a bill that the mandatory debate time is pointless. In these cases there is a cloture vote just to shorten the debate on the floor even though there is no standing or serious threat of filibuster -- the opposition being far fewer than the 40 needed to break a cloture vote.

So right off the bat there is a serious flaw in the Cloture=Filibuster argument. If votes for cloture were made with no looming threat of a filibuster, then those votes can't really be counted as filibusters. In fact, since a filibuster requires a FAILED cloture vote, we can only really count FAILED cloture votes as potential filibusters.

But I decided to check the numbers myself and set the following ground rules for evaluating filibusters, filibuster threats, and non-filibuster cloture votes:

Filibusters - These are the bills that were successfully killed by an actual filibuster, or tabled to avoid the imminent threat of a filibuster. Regardless of the actual debate on a bill, any bill that fails cloture and is then tabled, will be considered a successful filibuster.

This is giving the Democrat claim a lot of leeway, however, since technically there have been no actual filibusters in any of these Congressional sessions.

Filibuster Threats - Any cloture vote in which there are greater than 30 nay votes, but where the bill passed anyway. "Close, but no cigar".

Non-Filibuster Clotures - These would be any cloture vote in which 30 or fewer Senators voted against cloture, or bills in which cloture was withdrawn and the bill was voted on(no filibuster) . When the Nays fall so short that there was never a credible threat of an actual filibuster then these votes were simply to skip the needless debate in the face of overwhelming support.

OK, with that ground work in place, lets look at the numbers for the 110th, 111th and 112th Congress. These are the Congresses in which the Republicans were supposed to be playing obstructionists. The numbers:

110th Congress
Total Cloture votes- 139
Filibusters - 20 (14%)
Filibuster Threats - 33 (24%)
Non-Filibuster Cloture - 86 (62%)

111th Congress
Total Cloture votes- 136
Filibusters - 11 (8%)
Filibuster Threats - 40 (29%)
Non-Filibuster Cloture - 85 (63%)

112th Congress (to date)

Total Cloture votes- 25
Filibusters - 0 (0%)
Filibuster Threats - 8 (32%)
Non-Filibuster Cloture - 17 (68%)

And here are the total figures:

Total Cloture votes- 300
Filibusters - 31 (10%)
Filibuster Threats - 81 (27%)
Non-Filibuster Cloture - 188 (63%)

So, in these two and a half congresses, by my very forgiving statistical method, we have 63% of the total cloture votes that were past in landslides, so no filibuster was even threatened. In fact, between the 110th congress and 111th congress we see a slight downturn in potential filibusters from 53 to 51, and the "successful" filibusters cut nearly in half. This is to be expected given the fat that the Senate was essentially filibuster proof for part of the 111th Congress.

So how does this stand up to previous Senates? Well, let's do the same evaluation for the 109th Congress:

109th Congress
Total Cloture votes-
Filibusters - 11 (16%)
Filibuster Threats - 14 (21%)
Non-Filibuster Cloture - 43 (63%)

Well, that is interesting. The Non-Filibuster Cloture vote rates remained steady, and while the total cloture votes did double, the biggest change in that time was the number of successful "filibusters" by my admittedly stretched definition of the word. Well, obviously something is up. Total cloture going into the 110th congress shot way up in all categories, while their success rate fluctuated from 16% to 20% and down to 10%.. this is easily explained by the simple fact that a more evenly divided Senate is prone to more successful filibusters.

But these statistics don't really play to the Democrats narrative. If it were the Republicans acting as the stalling party and obstructionists then we would expect to see a jump in the Filibuster and filibuster threat numbers (which we do) with no increase in the procedural non-filibuster cloture votes, which we don't. In this case what we see is that the 110th, 111th and 112th Senates just went cloture crazy across the board. There was no significant change in the AMOUNT of legislation introduced across the Congressional sessions, and certianly not a doubling.

So, here is another interesting statistic to point us to the cause of the spike in cloture votes starting in the 110th Senate:

109th Senate, cloture requests by Senator:
Frist - 50
McConnell - 12
Bennett - 2
Sessions - 1
Reid - 1
Domenici - 1
Mikulski - 1

110th Senate, cloture requests by Senator:
Reid - 123
McConnell - 12
Whitehouse - 1
Dodd - 1
Casey - 1
Bingaman - 1

111th Senate, cloture requests by Senator:
Reid - 130
McConnell - 2
Dodd - 2
Durbin - 2

Huh, It would appear that Harry Reid is simply cloture happy. He is calling more cloture votes than any Senate leader in history, and getting roughly the same mix of results as previous Senate leaders.

Finally, on the "80% of legislation in 2009 was filibustered" remark that I see so often thrown out in left wing articles. It is used as if it is so undeniable that there is no need to show the math. I have to do one last quick throttling of this lie that won't die.

When these claims of filibuster -- that is the failed "cloture=filibuster" argument -- come up, the speakers are quick to point out that in the 111th Congress there were 136 "filibusters". Well, while that number is certainly higher than years past, does it equate to 80% of all legislation? No. It isn't even 80% of bills passed:

Bills Passed: 1047
Cloture votes: 136
Ratio: 12%

.. and if you go by my accounting of actual filibusters and threats then only 5% of those votes were actually in danger of a filibuster. I have no idea what kind of math they use to reach that 80%, and nobody seems all that interested in showing their work. So please, when you hear anyone spout this bit of nonsense out, ask them to show their work.

The War on Economy

It's about time. We as Americans have sat back and simply allowed the threat of prosperity to grow across this great land for far too long.

Where once we were a happy country of modest means, now we see people with more money than they need, flaunting it in our very faces! I'm sick of it! I would have thought that when a group of rich people built some sky scrapers in New York that this country would have said "Enough!"... but alas we have short memories. How we can see those buildings standing their every day and FORGET what kind of wanton prosperity raised them in the first place is beyond me...

Those rich people... they don't want to live in America.. OUR America. They have their own stores, their own restaurants, neighborhoods. What happened to the melting pot?

I used to fear that one day my children would grow up in a country where they would be tempted to become wealthy. I am so glad that we finally have an administration in place to make sure that wealth will be something my kids only read about in textbooks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Two and a Half Years in One Minute

Pretty much how it happened...

Democrats: We're here to fix the economy! Spend spend spend!
Republicans: Ummm... your spending won't create jobs....
Democrats: HITLER!! Yes it WILL!! Watch!!!
Republicans: It doesn't appear to be wor-
Democrats: SHUT UP HITLER!! Watch....
Republicans: See, the auto bailout still lead to bankru-
Democrats: SHHHH!!! It's not the stimulus fault! It's those evil corporations sending jobs and money overseas!!!
Republicans: Well, but Chevrolet got a lot of money and they are still in bad shape..
Democrats: Nuh uh!
Republicans: They're not?
Democrats: Nope... we sold them to Fiat.
Republicans: You wha-
Democrats: -SHHHHH!!! Watch something is happening....
Republicans: Yeah, it's not working... and now we are 33% more in debt
American People: Yeah, it appears there is something to the Republican argument... let's not spend so much...
Democrats: I really think you slack jawed yokels clinging to God and guns should give us some more time.
American People: Hmmmm.... Nope.
Republicans: Hey thanks American people!
American People: You're only here because the other option is Ralph Nader.
Republicans: Ah, check! Ok, then... well, first things first, lets stop spending so much
Democrats: What just happened?! Is this because of the Palin Death panels? Because that was totally false.
Republicans: Heh, yeah... funny though.
American People: Well, yeah, but really... it's about the debt. We're just not seeing a return on our great grand children's investment.
Republicans: Well, we're living beyond our means... we should likely rethink how we're going to provide federal servic-
Democrats: -AGH!!! You are really going to kill all old folks!? Surely, American People, you hate them for this right?!
American People: ......
Democrats: No look, I have some charts and graphs... if you look you will see that it's all Bush's fault...
American People: Yeah, that's why we voted for you.
Democrats: And we totally fixed shit, ya know?
American People: ......
Democrats: Anyway, Spending a shit ton didn't fix as much as we thought.... so let's tax someone, that always makes us feel better.
Republicans: So NOW you give a shit about deficits!?
Democrats: (whisper) not really... shhhhhhh...
Republicans: So anyway, the stimulus didn't work s-
Democrats: -What?! If the stimulus isn't working then explain how it is that Osama is dead!
Republicans: Boom! Head shot.
American People: USA USA USA!
Democrats: UN UN UN... I mean USA USA USA!
Republicans: Ok, but seriously, we need to cut the budget.
Democrats: Nah... the great thing about huge defict budgets is they eventually cut themselves.
Republicans: .......
American People: ........
Republicans: Wha-
Democrats: QUIET YOU!! We have civilians to save!! BIEW BIEW
Republicans: ... Ummm.. have we thought this thr...
Republicans: Ummm.. seriously, who are we protecting again?
Democrats: The peace loving free people of Libya!
Rebels: Yeah, US!
Republicans: And who are you?
Rebels: Democracy lovers, duh!
Republicans: Wait... don't I recognize you from some wanted poste-
Democrats: Stop talking crazy.. they love peace and democracy... and recoilless rifles...
Rebels: Hey, we're kinda pinned down guys... can you send some bigger guns?
Democrats: Have no fear! We've called FRANCE!
Rebels: ....... well, anyway, until then I suppose we can take care of that black African problem we have. Auslanders aus, amiright?
Republicans: .. wait, you mean like Nazis?
Rebels: Yeah, you Americans... you were the ones that were Nazis, right?
Democrats: Might as well have been with Bushitler!
Republicans: WHAT? NO! That was the Germans.
Rebels: Oh... well, all you infidels look alike.
Republicans: All us what?
Democrats: OOOPS! Connection lost... these darn NATO radios... always make you sound all staticy... and jihadist-y.. OH Hey, anyway... forget about Libya. We may actually really just hate Yemen...
Republicans: FINALLY! Maybe we can pressure the Yemeni goverment to...
Democrats: What? No, we hate the Yemeni Government...
Republicans: ... In favor of who?
Democrats: Yemeni Rebels, silly....
Democrats: Ah dang... lost connection again. But I could have sworn I heard something about loving in there... they're so cute.
American People: ........ ummm.. jobs?
Democrats: GEORGE BUSH!!
American People: That isn't an answer...
Democrats: Of course it is silly.. it's the answer to everything...
American People: ......
Democrats: Or sometimes Dick Cheney. Dealers choice really.
Republicans: So yeah, about the jobs... Government spending isn't the way to go.
Democrats: Totally agree with you there. We need to tax the rich.
Republicans: Huh? How does that create jobs.
Democrats: Well, we take money out of Corporate coffers.. and we spend it o-
Republicans: You waht? I thought you agreed with me that spending wasn't th-
Democrats: Seriously I thought you we kidding about wanting to kill all old and young people.
Republicans: What?
Democrats: Seriously, watch this ad, it explains it pretty well (hits play)
Video: "In a world where one man... BUSH... wants all Republicans to eat old and young people, Democrats are the only power strong enough to-"
Republicans: Ok, that's it, you people are nuts...
Democrats: No wait, watch... there's a clever Venn Diagram that shows exactly how much "Republican" means "Hitler"... it's rather compelling. Both Republican AND Hitler are blue.. the similarity is uncanny.
Republicans: Fuck it, I'm done. Cut spending or we don't raise the debt ceiling
Republicans: Whatever...
Democrats: Pretty please?
American People: .... So is Nader running?

What can be learned from the debt ceiling debate...

Don't trust the government.

We are now into day 24,837 of the national debt crisis. It was sometime in mid 1943 when the American debt doubled, and we have been stressing about it ever since. In that time we have raised the debt ceiling countless times, and at least since the Carter years, rancorous debate and heavily partisan voting on the debt ceiling has been the rule rather than the exception.

We are not experiencing one of those exceptions.

But, there is something very valuable to be gleaned from this current debate that I don't think has been touched on yet, but needs attention. That is, in the political demagogic carnival show of the last months, the Democrats have essentially thrown out the semi-logical arguments that they have made for the need for a Government run retirement and health care program, and deficit spending to boot.

So let's address these arguments in turn:

Argument 1) Market Driven Retirement accounts are inferior to Social Security because market accounts are subject to market volatility while Social Security is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States -

Well, this is so easily proven a pointless distinction that I probably don't even need to point out the trouble with this argument. But I will make the point anyway.

According to the Democrats own demagoguery we as a nation are one debt ceiling vote away from defaulting on the US Debt... so, while the market may fluctuate, by their own argument, Social Security is a debt ceiling vote shy from going away.

This isn't really secure footing given that we are now holding this circus act at least one a year.

Argument 2) Funding the US Budget with Medicare and Social Security funds is fiscally sound since the IOUs deposited in these accounts are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States -

Well, this second point is even easier to dispel than the first. Again we see that when up against the annual debt ceiling vote, by the Democrats own insistence, the rationale for borrowing this money is shown to be comically false. What good are these IOUs without the affirmative debt ceiling vote? If we are going to default on our debt, and ruin the full faith and credit of the nation on this one vote, then how valuable is that IOU really?

Indeed, in an interview with 60 minutes President Obama claimed that he didn't know if the US would be able to pay Social Security and Medicare recipients as soon as August of this year... some three weeks from collapse. This is security, apparently. This is what the President wants us to think.... and in thinking it we must ask the important question: then why should we trust Government with our security?

It should be clear by now how little "full faith and credit" really means in the age of huge deficts and debt. Efforts to cut spending are efforts to reinforce our nations faith and credit at home and abroad. Seeking ways to "increase revenue" and continue spending as usual is simply a continuance of the policy of cashing in on our nations waning faith and credit.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

David Brooks: The Father of No-Brainers

Here is a good example of why David Brooks can't be taken seriously, from his latest OP/ED regarding the current fight in Congress over the debt ceiling.:

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.

By previous attacks (Klien, WaPo) on the Republicans it has been asserted that the talks broke down with the Republicans when they were offered a 83/17 split on cuts versus new taxes when the Republicans own study sought an 85/15 split.

So, if the Democrats are offering "$3 trillion in cuts" that would mean they are seeking more than $600 billion in new taxes. So it is a "few hundred million"... if "few" is defined as "over six hundred thousand".

Brooks is a liar who likes to make wildly inaccurate claims to support whatever subject he feels like flogging that day. He's a wordier Paul Krugman. That his Democrat readers gloss over these wholly inaccurate statements in an effort to give his statements gravitas is as damning of the reader as it is of Brooks. It stares you in the face, daring you to miss it... it is the very crux of his argument, and it's an utter falsehood.

But then he is also wrong in his panic over the debt, and again the answer is staring everyone in the face. THe Democrats have agreed to cut $3 to $4 trillion.... lets assume that the $4 trillion is another lie by Brooks, but grant him that the $3 trillion is close to accurate.

So, what do we pay per year in servicing the US debt? Well, counting Social Security and Medicare IOUs that sits at about $380 billion annually... but the Social Security and Medicare isn't technically due right now, and we can't default on intergovernmental debt anyway, so we are looking at a mandatory debt payment of about $200 billion to keep from defaulting on our external debt.... and HEY, the Democrats have agreed to cut far more than that.... so we have found a way to service our debt for several more years AND save over a trillion in deficits at the same time.

So picture this: Some benevolent alien race swoops into out Solar System, decides that we Americans are so awesome that they will pay off every penny of our debt... now imagine that in the wake of having that burden lifted, our Federal Government saw the error in their ways and cut $1.5 trillion from our national budget over the next 10 years...

Cutting that $3 trillion is the fiscal equivalent of that scenario, no need to raise taxes.



Now, if we could work it so that we cut that additional $1 trillion that Brooks is talking about, that would be enough to even cover increase in debt payments due to that economic recovery that we are supposed to be enjoying any day now. Well, it would cover it with over $500 billion to spare in 2014 and $300 billion to spare in 2020....

Since I have now found the US government an extra $200+ billion without raising taxes, I now have the authority to spend it (it's a rule, trust me!). I would like to spend $200 billion by increasing the NASA budget 2800%... while cutting the NASA budget on green jobs and Muslim outreach. I would then like to issue a check to every US citizen in the amount of $1,500 annually in 2015, declining to about $300 in 2020 on the strict orders that the money must be spent.

Wow, budget cuts, debt relief, and stimulus in one easy plan.

You're all welcome.

(Update: The Brooks article has been updated to use the phrase "a few hundred billion" instead of "a few hundred million" ... now that the statement is closer to accurate, let the absurdity of the statement "a few hundred billion dollars" wash over you)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Paul Rever Part 2

Well, as can be expected, with Bachmann rising to in the polls, the media feeding frenzy has begun.

This week they attempt to maintain the "flake" story a little longer by catching Bachmann in misstatements.. and again they try to catch her in a candid, on-set gotcha regarding US history.

But is she really that wrong?

Here is the exchange that is getting press today between Bachmann and George Stephanopolous:

Stephanopoulos: You have been making a lot of progress, also getting a lot of scrutiny. I am not going to get too deep into the "flake" flap from Sunday. But as you make progress in this campaign everything you say is going to get more scrutiny. And the Pulitzer Prize winning website, Politifact, has found that you have the worst record of making false statements of any of the leading contenders. And I wondered if you wanted to take a chance to clear up some of your past statements. For example earlier this year you said that the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence worked tirelessly to end slavery. Now with respect Congresswoman, that’s just not true. Many of them including Jefferson and Washington were actually slave holders and slavery didn’t end until the Civil War.

Bachmann: Well you know what’s marvelous is that in this country and under our constitution, we have the ability when we recognize that something is wrong to change it. And that’s what we did in our country. We changed it. We no longer have slavery. That’s a good thing. And what our Constitution has done for our nation is to give us the basis of freedom unparalleled in the rest of the world.

I agree with that…

Bachmann: That’s what people want...they realize our government is taking away our freedom.

Stephanopoulos: But that’s not what you said. You said that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery.

Well if you look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, that’s absolutely true. He was a very young boy when he was with his father serving essentially as his father’s secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery….

Stephanopoulos: He wasn’t one of the Founding Fathers – he was a president, he was a Secretary of State, he was a member of Congress, you’re right he did work to end slavery decades later. But so you are standing by this comment that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery?

Bachmann: Well, John Quincy Adams most certainly was a part of the Revolutionary War era. He was a young boy but he was actively involved.

Well let me move on to another one of your statements on the issue of jobs which is so central to this campaign. You said back in 2005 that taking away the minimum wage could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment. Where is the evidence for that?

So, in this gotcha question George erroneously determines tat because Slavery didn't end until the Civil War that the Founding fathers did not work to abolish slavery.

This only serves to make Stephanopolis look ignorant.

But it goes on, and Bachmann argues her case using John QUINCY Adams as he evidence of the founding fathers who worked against slavery, when his father John Adams, or George Washington or Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine (the last two helped found the first abolitionist movement in the US) would have been better examples.

But then the media took her statements that John Quincy Adams from from the "Revolutionary era" to mean that she said that John Quincy Adams was in the Revolutionary war... which would technically be true, in a civilian sense.

And hey, the Revere moment with Palin and this Bachmann moment intertwine since one of Revere's primary duties (and one of the few he accomplished) was to alert John Adams and his family that the British were on the March and that they were in danger... so being a target of the British troops in the Revolutionary war kinda makes you a part of it, doesn't it?

Anyway, this is getting tiresome. Stephanopoulos, like those who chastised Palin, had the added advantage of having the opportunity to be prepared for the discussion in advance and they still got it wrong.

More over, in the process of trying to catch Bachmann for her statement, Stephanopoulos goes so far as to roll out the same tired liberal "But the founding fathers had slaves!" bull crap that so completely simplifies the American Revolution as to make it unrecognizable and ignore the pleathora of evidence in the creation of the founding documents that opposition to slavery WAS one of the major drivers of the wording of these documents and for later amendments, and it was this wording that made it possible for Abraham Lincoln to declare slavery at odds with our nations founding principles and have constitutional grounds for his claim.

In fact, Stephanoloulos is so backwards in his incrimination that he is at odds with Lincoln himself as seen in possibly THE most famous American speech of all time:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

So Mr. Stephanopoulos, was Abraham Lincoln a flake?

Let's not move on to the next question so quickly, there, champ.