2008-11-05 10:20 in /politics/US
It’s been a year and a half since my last political post. I’m a little surprised that it’s been quite that long, but not entirely shocked. I spent nearly all of this election cycle somewhat withdrawn from the whole thing; feeling disenfranchised from years of being told that my dissent was unpatriotic, and being disgusted by the amount of ugly politics-as-usual that was going on. I wasn’t spellbound by Obama like so many of my friends and neighbors, but slowly gained respect for his thoughfulness, general positivity, sense of context, and willingness to confront real, serious issues that most politicians shirk from.
So, it wasn’t until yesterday that I really started to feel a nervous excitement that maybe we really would see a change this year. By 5PM, I was compulsively reloading web pages, and when the counts hit 200 electoral votes with only the east coast reporting I got that “OMG it’s really happening” feeling. Around 7, I headed down to the Green Dragon with a friend to watch on the TV there. I think I started vibrating at some point shortly before they called it.
The whole room was silent for Obama’s speech. I’m pretty sure most of us cried. I think over the last couple years I’d resigned myself to only being able to have an effect on my local community. His speech inspired me to again turn my efforts to a larger sphere. My community will still be my primary, day-to-day focus; but I’ll definitely be more engaged at the national level as well. What Obama said is true: this election doesn’t change anything by itself, it just gives us the opportunity to change. This is a difficult time for our country, and it’s going to take hard work by many people to solve these problems. But there’s a huge population of people like me that had all but given up and are now re-energized, and I think we can really make some improvements.
Closing thoughts... To Obama: live your rhetoric and remember that you now represent all Americans, not just your supporters. To McCain: you won back some of my respect with your concession speech; please let this be a return to your old, pre-election self. To supporters of both: be as gracious in victory and defeat as your candidates were last night. Talk and listen to people you don’t agree with, and realize that your goals are largely the same, even when your methods differ. Find the places where you can work together.
2007-03-18 15:37 in /politics
The Oregonian is leading today with a sob story about how tough it is being an Iraq war supporter. Apparently, with shifting public opinions, they feel like their voices are being ignored, even “shouted down”. They complain that anti-war resolutions are being “rammed through with no opposition”.
I’m having a hard time coming up with a response other than “Get over it”.
2006-11-10 00:40 in /politics/oregon
I’m almost disturbed by this, but I went 13 for 14 on the ballot measures for this election. And, the one that didn’t go my way was 47, which I’m pretty sure will have to be thrown out because 46 didn’t pass. (I have to wonder, how did a substantial fraction of voters fail to realize that 46 passing was a prerequisite for 47.)
I actually ended up abstaining on all the offices except the US House. (Oregon didn’t vote on a senator this year.) The governor’s race seemed to basically be a referendum on how the incumbent has done over the last 4 years, and I’m not really qualified to judge that. I was briefly swayed by the Libertarian candidate’s statement in the voters’ guide, but his web site convinced me that he was neither qualified, nor as centrist as he claims. Also, what self-respecting libertarian can claim to support Oregon’s full-service-only gas station laws? Other than those two races, I didn’t have any chance to research candidates.
On the larger scale, I’m happy about the shift in Congress. The new democratic majorities aren’t big enough to realistically hope to reverse all the damage of the last 4 or 5 years, or to seriously bring any individuals to task for abuses of power; but at least things shouldn’t get worse. Honestly, if the Clinton administration is anything to go by, an opposed Congress and President might not be that bad.
2006-11-06 20:00 in /politics/oregon
I’ve also left the most complex of the state measures for last: Measure 42. (Or, at least, it seems like the most complex to me. Your opinion may vary.) This measure would ban the use of credit information in the pricing of any insurance product.
There’s a lot of history in the rhetoric around this measure. The author, Bill Sizemore, apparently has quite a history of pushing conservative ballot measures. He also recently got fined for some type of hanky-panky regarding signature gathering. Now, if signature gathering here works anything like it did in CA, I’m not going to hold that against him too much, because it just means that he got caught. The result is that much of the opposition to this measure has focused on demonizing these two characters, rather than debating the substance of the issue. There is an interesting question, though, of why this guy is pushing a measure that seems to be about consumer protection. Moreover, the only other person who submitted an argument in favor is Loren Parks, a billionaire living in Nevada with a history of big contributions to conservative causes. I had a conspiracy theory a couple days ago, but I forget what it was, and that’s probably for the best.
The financial backing for the opposition is coming almost entirely from big insurance companies, unsurprisingly. The arguments against are almost all variations on “your insurance bill will probably go up”, which is true since about 60% of people get a discount based on their credit history, while only about 30% pay more. Of course, less information for the insurance companies means more risk and less revenue for them; which is really their motivation.
Overall, this is a complex issue which isn’t really being fairly debated. The only reasoned discussion I have seen is from a curious actuary who decided to address it as an academic issue. (He’s not an Oregonian, so has no vested interest.) I basically agree with his analysis. I have no particular difficulty believing a correlation exists. Honestly, I think it’s more plausible than a conspiracy by the insurance companies to screw minorities and the poor. I also think the arguments about inaccurate credit reports are a bit of a strawman. Everyone can, and should be, getting free copies of their credit reports each year. Moreover, inaccuracies go both ways; I’ve noticed errors that look bad, which I make a point to correct, but I’ve also noticed omissions of some things which I’m not rushing to get added onto my report.
There is a large issue at hand here, though, which is what the future of insurance is in a world with more and more “personal” information available to companies. Financial histories, DNA analysis, automobile “black boxes”, video surveillance in public spaces; these are all examples which insurance companies would love to use to differentiate between customers. At some point, the whole concept of group insurance gets a little shaky. I don’t have a good argument where to draw the line here, but this may be an area where the concept of states as experimental testing grounds has merit.
Oregon has been conducting one such experiment for the past few years. The current laws allow credit information to be used for setting the initial premium on a new policy; but it may not be used to cancel, re-rate, or fail to renew an existing policy. As a Bayesian, I like this approach: use credit and other information to establish a prior, then going forward use the actual loss history for each period to refine the probability estimate. I’d like to keep this system in place for a while longer to see how it works in practice, so I’m voting against changing the system again so soon.
2006-11-06 15:20 in /politics/oregon
Measure 26-80 is the most complex of the local measures, and there’s a lot of local history and politics involved that I don’t understand yet. The quick summary is that this would allow “Metro” to issue $227 million in bonds to acquire property for park or protected land, and take various other actions to protect wildlife, water quality, etc.
I haven’t figured out exactly what it is, but I gather that “Metro” is some sort of regional governmental agency that grew out of the fact that the greater Portland area spans 3 counties and a dozen or more municipalities and there was no effective way to get them all working together. (I think, but I’m not completely sure, that Metro is an Oregon-only thing, although the metropolitan area really crosses the river into Washington as well.) I get the idea that the charter of this agency includes land and water preservation, as well as more vague quality-of-life issues. The usual array of complaints about government have been directed at Metro by various people: it spends too much, it’s overgrown and bloated, it’s overreaching its charter, it’s ineffective, etc. I have no idea how much credence to give these complaints.
The arguments against this measure seem to follow these complaints. Some say it’s too expensive and the other measures are more deserving. This seems a little bogus as this is actually the smallest expenditure of the four (and covers a larger geographic region). Some people feel that Metro has been working outside its charter and needs to be “sent a message” by voting no. This logic also seems perverse, since this particular proposal seems to be exactly the type of thing Metro was created to do, from what I understand.
The final class of objection is that the land that Metro proposes to acquire is too far outside the city, and it not currently under threat of development. I think this argument is short-sighted. The urban area is going to continue to grow; there’s almost no question of it. The major open land in the city, like Mt. Tabor, Washington, and Forest Parks, were all well outside the developed city when they were first set aside as protected areas. Now they are surrounded by dense urban neighborhoods. I’m voting for this measure, because part of what attracted us to Portland is the blend of vital urban development with extensive greenspace, and I want the city to stay that way in the future.
Aside: I’m pretty frustrated that, unlike the state-wide voters’ guide, the Multnomah County guide only includes summaries and analysis of the measures, but not the full text. Particularly with a complex issue like this, I’d like to know what I’m really voting on.
2006-11-05 10:20 in /politics/oregon
Measure 26-86 provides two reforms to the pension system for police and firefighters in Portland. This system currently has an unfunded liability of $1.6B which is expected to rise substantially if no action is taken.
The first change is to give the decision-making authority on disability claims to an independent expert. Currently that authority is given to the pension Board of Trustee’s which is mostly, if not entirely, made up of representatives of the police and fire departments. This seems like a sensible reform both because the board members may have a conflict of interest in these matters, and because they aren’t necessarily qualified to make these medical judgements.
The second change would put new employees of these departments on a new, fully-funded pension plan, which should eliminate the unfunded liability over the course of time. This isn’t a magic solution; it’ll take 30 to 40 years to fully fix the problem, and for the first 20 years the costs will actually go up somewhat. However, it seems to be the responsible thing to do, and I support this type of long-term thinking.
2006-11-04 20:20 in /politics/oregon
Measure 26-84 renews for 5 years a levy providing funding to Portland public schools. I’m not very familiar with the background to this issue, but the proponents claim that there has been significant improvement in school performance, as well as reduced administrative costs during the past five years that this levy was originally in place. This appears to be sufficiently non-controversial that there seems to be no organized opposition to this measure (which I actually find fairly remarkable; is there really no one in Portland opposed to public education on principle?). Given that I have no reason to consider the schools overfunded, I am happy to maintain the current funding.
2006-11-04 19:40 in /politics/oregon
Measure 26-81 maintains the current level of library funding in Multnomah County by renewing an existing levy (earmarked property tax). Personally, I’d be willing to vote for an increase in library funding since most of the local branches here close at 6PM. I have no hesitation voting to maintain the current spending.
2006-11-03 23:40 in /politics/oregon
I avoided looking closely at Measure 44 until this evening because I figured anything to do with prescription drug coverage would be either mind-numbingly dull or mind-bogglingly complex or both. However, in this case, there’s already a program in place where the state negotiates reduced prices on drugs which are then available to poor seniors without coverage. This measure just extends that program to all residents of the state without prescriptions drug coverage. Since the administrative systems are already in place, and the negotiations already take place, there’s no marginal cost to extend the system to a larger pool of people. Consequently, there isn’t much not to like about this measure.
Aside: Despite the fact that I can easily put up a couple strawman arguments against this measure, apparently there’s not enough people opposed to it to come up with $500 to put a statement in the voter guide. So, this is one of those rare cases where there are only statements in favor.
2006-11-03 15:50 in /politics/oregon
On the surface this pair of measures, 46 & 47 appear reasonable. I’m not one who believes that money is actually morally equivalent to speech. However, as I’ve looked more closely at these measures, I’ve come to oppose them.
Measure 46 is the enabler; it amends the constitution to permit laws restricting campaign contributions and expenditures. This is required because previous laws were struck down by the Oregon Supreme Court as violating the state constitution. The text is fairly short, and I’ll reproduce it entirely here:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, the people through the initiative process, or the Legislative Assembly by a three-fourths vote of both Houses, may enact and amend laws to prohibit or limit contributions and expenditures, of any type or description, to influence the outcome of any election.
My concern is due to the last two phrases. “Of any type or description” is overly broad, in my mind, and could permit restriction on all sorts of speech and expression, not just monetary ones. I also think there is too much vagueness in what constitutes “influenc[ing] the outcome of [a] election.” This could open the door to restricting freedom of the press, as well as personal speech. From a technical standpoint, the way this measure modifies the constitution, by asserting to trump all other provisions, is undesirable. It unnecessarily creates the possibility of all kinds of unforeseen consequences. If the goal is to explicitly define the expenditure of money as outside of the realm of protected speech, it would be preferable to modify the sections of the constitution guaranteeing those protections to specify these exceptions.
Measure 47 is the follow-on law, which can only take effect if 46 passes. It creates various limitations on campaign contributions and expenditures. It is lengthy and complicated, and I haven’t been able to read the full text, much less understand it completely. This alone is sufficient justification for me to vote against the measure (or at least abstain); I cannot bring myself to vote for a piece of legislation I haven’t actually read.
It does appear that the authors attempted to be careful in drafting this measure, but there are a couple issues that I found fairly easily. It excludes from the definition of ‘contribution’ and ‘expenditure’: “Any bona fide news story, commentary or editorial distributed through the facilities of any media organization, including any television or radio station, newspaper, magazine or other regularly published periodical.” Note, however, that blogs, and indeed any online publisher, do not receive explicit protection. The measure also forbids any individual from spending more than $10,000 in a given year to “support or oppose any candidate or political party”. This potentially prevents an individual from self-publishing a political book. Individuals under 16 are prohibited from spending more than $500. The intent here is to prevent shill spending by parents, but it also serves to further disenfrancise politically interested teens, for whom activism is their only political voice. It’s quite conceivable for a modern teenager to be running a personal political website, spending more than $500, earned either through a part-time job or from ad revenue off the site itself.
As I said initially, I am sympathetic to the goals of this legislation, but unfortunately I think that these measures just open up too many potential problems. Consequently, I can’t support them.