Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tax Day Redux - The Washington Post slaps Feds too!

So on April 15, the Washington Post published the usual polemics about the 4%of federal employees with tax "deficiencies" meaning they owe some sorts of back federal taxes. The stories also highlighted legislation making its way through the House to make it easier to fire Feds who don't pay taxes properly and on time.

Sadly, both the Post and the House seem to think that the fed tax delinquency rates font merit placement in context. If they did, they would have to acknowledge that Feds at a 4% rate are doing better then the rest of the citizenry, who are running between 9% and 10% deficient (depending on what source you read).

But hey, what role do facts have in a good polemic?

Monday, March 9, 2015

What have we become - the Bachelor Finale

What does it say about our nation that tomorrow's water cooler conversation will be dominated by discussions of whether the "right" woman got get heart broken in a pig barn in Dubuque Iowa? 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

Federal Employment Redux - how the House's Selective memory hurts Americans

The House of Representatives wants to continue cutting the size of the federal workforce presumably without cutting the number of this the federal government has to do:

“We’ve racked up $18 trillion in debt simply because Washington has no idea when to stop spending,” Lummis said in a statement. “Attrition is a solution that requires the federal government to do what any business, state or local government would do to cuts costs — limit new hires.”
As I have noted before:

First, looking at federal civilian employment trends since 1962 (Data courtesy OPM.gov), I find that the federal government is nowhere as big as it has been in my life time.  Specifically, the federal government topped out at over 3 Million employees under President Reagan, began to shrink under President Bush 41, shrank dramatically under President Clinton (to less then 2.65 Million), climbed again under President Bush 43 (During the prime years of the Great Recession), and began to shrink again under President Obama. 
 Given the lionizing that St. Ronnie receives these days, I really have to wonder how many current Republican politicians remember what he actually did.  Even if they do, the Federal Government is shrinking in employee size naturally, so I fail to see how this does anything real to the government's continued Congressionally inflicted debt crisis.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"We have come to our Nation's Capitol to cash a check:" How Dr. King's legacy is being destroyed by income inequality and Citizen's United



For someone who spends time thinking and writing about politics and policy, the juxtaposition of the holiday celebrating the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the State of the Union address by the Nation’s first African American President, and the fifth anniversary of the Citizen’s United ruling can’t be ignored.   What makes it all the worse, however, is that the President tonight should – if he wants to keep Dr. King’s legacy alive – make another round of proposals that require starting with rolling back Citizens United.

Unfortunately, This MLK Day finds us in a more divided, more racially, more economically unequal society.  Like it or not, the SCOUTS prediction that their decision in Citizen’s United would decrease campaign corruption – because unlimited funds for “speech” by corporations and other groups would “allow” more people to know who gave what to whom – the reality is that BOTH parties are now both heavily dark money funded, and funded in such significant amounts by super PACs that the political speech of ordinary people is effectively drowned out. In a day and age where it takes $1 Billion or more just to get to the White House, no one can realistically say that any person (except a billionaire or two) has as much political speech as a corporation or Super PAC.  This is critically important, because in the wake of the SCOTUS gutting of the Civil Rights Act, all an individual has left is their speech (since in many cases they have defacto lost their vote).

In turn, that court-created inequality in political speech of necessity creates economic inequality where there was none, and enlarges it where it already exists.  Wages after the Great Recession are stagnant at best, and the reality is that while unemployment keeps dropping, the two biggest forces driving it are people taking lower wage jobs (and often at less than full employment) and people simply exiting the workforce all together.  These things, not coincidentally, have driven corporate profits up to the highest levels in decades.  Sadly, the income inequality that this created is now coming back to haunt those corporations, as lower gas prices give underpaid workers some economic breathing room to clear up debts and begin saving again.  Consumers can also spend again (though it seems they aren’t – waiting further price drops), but many more of them may well lose their jobs in the formerly growing energy sector if prices continue to stay low.  In addition, the financial sector that is now the “bedrock” of our economy is taking stock hits to energy sector stocks, which means that Wall Street will likely start advocating for government interference in the market to boost oil prices. After all, you can’t invest tens of millions of dollars on a Presidential candidate, or tens of thousands on a Senator if they don’t help you stay afloat, can you?

All of this would look and sound eerily familiar to Dr. King, who died in 1968 preparing his Campaign for the Poor as the next chapter of his Civil Rights Movement work.


Then, as now, most of the poor of working age had jobs, but, as King puts it: “they are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation.” In 1968, 25 million people — nearly 13 percent of the population — were living below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau. (In 2013, 45.3 million people — 14.5 percent were below the poverty level.)


Dr. King understood, as do a few folks today, that access to the voting booth, or forced desegregation, would do little to ease the plight of racial minorities if their economic condition – along with the economic condition of the poor whites who were often their most violent opposition – didn’t improve.  Then, as now, minorities and poor whites compete for fewer and fewer lower paying jobs, and that competition stokes much of the fear used by politicians to drive a wedge between groups that should be allied.  Yet because he was unable to carry on with his important work, we are left to apologize to our descendants, as we seem unwilling to do anything to support the radical change now necessary to keep the Dream Alive.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

White Privilege and Young Black Men Dying - Why Ferguson Hits so Close to Home

Watching all the events unfold these past months in Ferguson, Missouri - to say nothing of the ongoing violence against unarmed black males generally - I have grown increasingly weary, as well as sad and angry.  Perhaps its because I grew up in a church congregation that still prides itself on having more white members get arrested in Baton Rouge's civil rights movement then any other; perhaps its because I once watched a Grand Wizard of the KKK miss getting elected governor by only a few 1000 votes; perhaps its because I graduated from an inner city high school in the south, where the student population was 64% black (nearly a decade after court ordered desegregation); perhaps its because one of my youngest daughter's bestie's is black, and her mom is referred.as my oldest son's "other mother."

Or, more likely, it's all those things, plus growing with a mom who led a ticket buying sit in to get all the tickets to a movie house so her black dorm-mate could join her for a Saturday matinee. All those things compel me to speak out about racial injustice - which the killing of Michael Brown most certainly was.

Yet in the wake of the Ferguson killing (and killings closer to home), my need to speak is more urgent, more compelling, and VERY personal.  You see, any one of those teenagers and young men could be my nephew, which would vault me into the now cliched role of the uncle who speaks for the family.

My sister in law has 3 half African American children, the youngest a son. My nephew is now 7, and as he continues to make his way in the world, he's already having to deal with the fact that his skin color, his hair texture, his facial features mark him as different from his mom, or his favorite uncle.  More then once when I've been with him on family visits I've noticed well meaning people of all backgrounds and ethnicities look at he and I as we go about our business with more then passing glances.  In this day and age no one says anything - though there have been a couple of older ladies who smile sweetly as if to acknowledge that male role models are important no matter what the circumstances.

But those kind looks will one day - if the statistics are to be believed - be replaced by locking of doors, crossing of streets, and lowering of academic demands.  All over his skin color.

Unfortunately for my nephew, his neurology will be working against him just as much as his skin color.  Thanks in part to several minutes of oxygen deprivation as an infant, he now lives with several mental health issues, two of which make it seriously hard to control his impulses and to permit him to empathize with others.  Both, thankfully, are under some control with medicine, but more then once a grown up has had to intervene with him because he started hitting a cousin he claims to love because said cousin was "annoying him." Equally disturbing are his very occasional statements about being in-between two arguing angels on his shoulders -like on TV Uncle P! - and the fact that its getting harder to listen to the good angel.

So, here you have a young black man (who is half Norwegian) growing up in a time of significant distrust of young black men, who can't always control his tendency to violence, who thinks very concretely, and wants what he wants when he wants it because he's not physically wired for delayed gratification.  Say he hits 14 or 15 or 18, and this manifests itself with police getting involved.  Maybe someone "annoyed" him.  Maybe he thinks someone took something from him.  Maybe they said something about his mom.  Whatever the reason, unless he meets a cop trained to recognize and deal with mental health issues there's a very good, and very sad, statistical likelihood he'll end up dead, because his brain's wiring will be working against him without anyone realizing it until its too late.

So sure, tell me white male privilege means I don't get to get angry about this.  Yell at me that I don't know what its like to live as a black man today; warn me the you are coming for me the next time a young black man dies at the hands of cops.  I'm fine with all that - I'm happy to let you vent - so long as you show up for my nephew's funeral, look me in the eye, and tell why putting me on the sidelines was a good idea.  Tell me how angry young African Americans, now clearly taking up the mantel of their elders, don't need my help just as much as my mom's dorm-mate did in the 1960's.  Do that while you help me hold up my grieving, white, sister in law, and you can dismiss me all you want in the here and now.

Or, stand beside me.  Work with me to hold all police, politicians, and leaders accountable for the abysmal failure of our Nation to fully embrace people of color.  Demand that all our children be educated about the true roots of our institutional racism and the real reasons our nation nearly tore itself apart in the Civil War,  Let me be angry with you, so you don't have to help me bury another innocent young black man.


Friday, September 26, 2014

If you can't publish, how can they make you perish? Bias against marine conservation papers in scientific journals

As a semi-reformed oceanographer and marine scientist, I still read scientific publications regularly. I even manage to sneak in a paper or talk to a professional meeting every couple of years. And right now, this situation hits home because I'm trying to write a conservation oriented paper for scientific publication that might (over a decade late) get the major portion of my Master's thesis published:
the environmental situation in the marine environment is pretty dire in many respects, and publishing biases exacerbates the problem – getting good science-based management and decision-making that can alleviate marine environmental problems is made even more difficult if timely publication of essential science is prevented by the biases of journal editors.
Part of the problem for me - as someone working in a science agency at HQ - is I don't take data anymore.  This means that if I want to write, and i do, I have to lean on policy or management topics that allow me to synthesize the work of others or to draw out my own small data sets into new and interesting way.  Marine conservation topics - which often cross what used to be a hard boundary between process or characterization studies and applied management of natural resources - are right up the alley that's open to me right now.

Funny thing is I would have thought that the rise of on-line open access journals would have begun to ameliorate this. Perhaps I'll write about that as a paper topic someday - assuming i can find a publisher.