Tag Archives: government

Where The Unexpectedly Huge National Debt Came From

As we’ve seen before, in the year 2000 the Congressional Budget Office, which does official economic forecasting for Congress, predicted that by 2012 the national debt would be wiped out. What actually happened is that the debt increased five times over. To explain how that once-likely prediction became just another unrealistic dream, the left-leaning Center For American Progress broke down the numbers in a short video; of the 12 trillion dollar difference between projected and actual revenue:

  • 4.7 trillion (40%) went to extra Bush spending (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, increased Medicare coverage, increased domestic security, debt repayment)
  • 3.3 trillion (26%) disappeared due to two economic downturns — the Internet bubble in 2001 and the real estate bubble in 2008
  • 2.3 trillion (20%) went to pay for Bush tax cuts
  • 1 trillion (8%) went to extra Obama spending (continuation of Bush tax cuts, new Obama tax cuts and other policies)
  • 0.7 trillion (6%) went to the 2008 stimulus to bail the country out

See also:

From YouTube, via FAIL Blog

Puerto Rico Finally Probably Wants To Be The 51st State

During the 2012 elections, the Puerto Rican ballot included two questions about its status:

  1. Was the voter satisfied with the island’s current status as a US territory?
  2. Did the voter want the island to be a US state, to be independent, or to be in free association with the United States?

That ballot is poorly thought out, because only those that answered “no” to the first question should have been allowed to answer the second question. Otherwise, what happens is that 1.7 million people answer the first one and 900,000 (54%) of them say “no” — they’re not happy being a territory. Then, 1.3 million people answer the second one and 800,000 (61%) say they want statehood. But, some 400,000 people that were satisfied with Puerto Rico being a territory also answered the second question, indicating that either they weren’t satisfied after all, or, more likely, were just confused by the ballot.


So the only thing we know for sure is that a good number of Puerto Ricans want it to be a state. Since America won Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War of 1898, this is the first time a majority of its citizens (possibly) indicated that they would like admission into the union. The question has been brought up three times before (in 1967, 1993 and 1998), and statehood failed to win a majority of the votes each time, though it got up to 46% in the 1990s.

Now that statehood has maybe gotten majority backing, the ball is in Congress’ court to start proceedings for admission — assuming that’s really what the people want and they weren’t just confused by the ballot. If it is admitted, Puerto Rico would be the first new state since Hawaii became one in 1959.

From AP

The US Budget Deficit Explained


Via Uber Humor

Why The Electoral College Should Be Abolished

The venerable C.G.P. Grey is back with another interesting and educational video, this time tackling the problems with the American Electoral College. (If that term is a fuzzy memory from high school government class, he also has a good five-minute video on how it works). The problems he points out with the system:

  • It’s unfair to people living in large states, because of a rule that redistributes some electors to smaller states, to keep presidential candidates from ignoring them. As a consequence, a vote from a person in Vermont counts for three Texans’ votes and someone in Wyoming counts for four Californians.
  • But candidates still ignore the small states, which get pretty much no visits or money from candidates.
  • What’s more, they also ignore the big states, like California, Texas and New York. Why? Because where candidates spend their resources is in big “battleground” states — the ones that could go either way. These days, Texas is a lock for Republicans, while California and New York are firmly Democratic; so why even bother preaching to the choir? Instead, candidates focus on a handful of states like Florida and Ohio that have big populations from both parties.
  • In fact, in the two months before the 2008 elections, just four states (FL, OH, PA, VA) received the majority of visits and money. So the opinions of the citizens in those four states tend to dominate politics, making it really unfair for someone in Colorado, for example.
  • It is technically possible to win the presidency with 22% of the popular vote. That means 78% of the people could vote for Obama in 2012, and he could still lose. This should absolutely not be possible in any democracy, much less in a country with the United States’ stature.
  • Throughout American history, there have been three elections in which someone became president with less than 50% of the popular vote — most recently, G.W. Bush in 2000. That means that 5% of the 56 elections since 1788 have failed. Any critical system that has a 5% failure rate is broken: if the electric utility failed that often, you’d have no power for more than two weeks a year; if the DMV failed that often, 5% of drivers would be blind or kids.

Clearly, much of government is broken — e.g., the economic system, the justice system — because they have much higher failure rates. However, at least we’re doing the best we can for most of them. But that’s not true for the electoral system: as he points out in the first video, the electoral college was created because in the 18th century, information traveled at the speed of a horse: having a small-ish group vote at the same time and place was the best way to do an election. But now, information travels at the speed of light and the electoral college is just simply archaic.

If you liked this video, Mr. Grey has a few other interesting ones:

From YouTube, via Laughing Squid

So You Want The TSA To Be Gone

Sign this handy petition at the White House’s website entitled “Abolish the TSA, and use its monstrous budget to fund more sophisticated, less intrusive counter-terrorism intelligence.” It reads:

The Transportation Security Administration has been one of the largest, most expensive and most visible blunders of the post-9-11 homeland security reformation. It has violated countless constitutional rights of average Americans, caused miserable and expensive delays in an already-overburdened air travel system, and allowed multiple known instances of harassment, theft, extortion and sexual abuse by its employees. It has failed approximately 70% of undercover efficacy tests, and for all its excesses, has been unable to catch even a single terrorist since its creation. In our current economic situation, we can no longer afford to continue wasting taxpayer dollars on this kafkaesque embarrassment. Let us instead invest in saner, more effective solutions.

Petitions on the site need 5,000 signatures in 30 days to even be looked at, and this one passed the 15,000 mark in two days. Still, the TSA is so entrenched and dismantling it has such high potential to be political suicide, that it will need a lot more than 15,000 signatures to be taken seriously. For example, what if there’s a terrorist attack the day after the TSA is gone? If it’s the day before, no biggie — we all know the TSA is awful at its job and don’t expect it to actually do anything besides make us take our shoes off and throw our water bottles out. But if it’s the day after — post hoc, ergo propter hoc — the attack will have obviously happened because the TSA was gone. The only thing that’ll make the administration take that risk is if not abolishing the TSA is a worse political move. And ignoring a petition with, say… a million signatures would probably be worse.

So go to the petition and sign it. You have to create an account on the White House website, but it takes all of the 30 seconds — a lot less than it does to take your shoes off and put them back on at the airport.

Update (Sept 28th): the petition was created on September 22nd but on the 25th, the webpage changed to one saying that it was undergoing maintenance and to check back shortly. As of the 28th, it’s still down — it looks like the administration is trying to put the kibosh on this before anything happens.

Update (Oct 28th): the petition resurfaced at a different address, and the threshold was upped to 25,000 signatures in 30 days — which it met with 28,000.

From The White House

The War On Drugs Doesn’t Cost That Much

The Cato Institute published a white paper by a Harvard economist which analyzes the impact that ending drug prohibition would have on state and federal government budgets. It estimates that between the savings from not spending money on enforcement and the income from from drug taxes, the end of prohibition would add about $88 billion to government coffers, most of which ($72 billion) would go to state governments.

The combined total spending for state and federal governments for 2010 was $5,800 billion, so that would be about 1.5% of the combined budget, and 2.5% of the $2,885 billion total of state budgets. The paper doesn’t address any increased healthcare costs from a larger drug user base though.

All in all, a 2% raise seems like a drop in the bucket. Compared to the $750 billion (13%) pensions cost, it seems like the more timely action would be to raise the retirement age.

From The Cato Institute