Redistrcting Initiative Too Close To Call

I wanted to make sure my California political friends saw this analysis of what is necessary for the Republicans' challenge to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission's State Senate redistricting map to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.

Scott Lay writes in his great e-mail newsletter, The Nooner:

"To avoid failure, redistricting petitions need 68.8% validity in the random sample. With 79.6% validity, a full count will be avoided. If a full count occurs, actual validity of 72.4% would be needed."

That's too close to call.

Banks Got an Even Larger Bailout Than We Thought

Thank goodness we have a free market system where those who succeed get the spoils and those who fail need to face the consequences of their poor decisions.

Unless, of course, you are in the financial services industry. As Bloomberg's Bob Ivry, Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz report:

"The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.

Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse."

Nope. No reason to be angry here. No reason to wonder why average people were not helped. Just move along. Get your pepper spray here.

Even for Security Theater, Such Intrusions Should Be Unacceptable

I'm posting this James Fallows piece a little late for it to help people actually traveling today, but I was struck by one of the stories: the TSA agent grilling a person for opting out of the use of the scanner and accepting a pat-down.

There's simply no reason for such an intrusion. Why do we tolerate this?

Finland Focuses on the Whole Child

As this article explains, one of the reasons Finland does so well in the international education rankings is its focus on the whole child. (There's also the fact that no student takes a standardized test until their last year of high school, but that can be a topic for another day.)

As Erin Richards writes:

"When faced with some of the same challenges as low-income schools in America, the Finnish system seems to redouble its efforts to make sure resources are shared and teachers and staff have the ability to work with small groups of students."

Some issues cannot be fixed solely in the classroom. When you consider our state's child poverty rate, how does it make sense for California to rank nationally (in ratio of staff to students) 51st counselors, 51st in librarians, and 50th in teachers?

Worse, those ratios are from 2008-09, before the full impact of the $18 billion in cuts our schools have received over the past 3 years. (You can see that data here from EdSource.)

There are many issues in our schools that cannot be solved with a high-stakes bubble test.


Watching the Wealthiest Avoid Taxes

You know our tax system has gotten completely out of control when even people like Senator Tom Coburn (R-17th Century) are condemning it.

David Kocieniewski writes a very useful and readable article about the tax strategies the most wealthy among us use to avoid paying their share of taxes.

"An examination of public documents involving Mr. Lauder’s companies, investments and charities offers a glimpse of the wide array of legal options for the world’s wealthiest citizens to avoid taxes both at home and abroad."

Just how bad are things?

"The tax burden on the nation’s superelite has steadily declined in recent decades, according to a sliver of data released annually by the I.R.S. The effective federal income tax rate for the 400 wealthiest taxpayers, representing the top 0.000258 percent, fell from about 30 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2008, the most recent data available."

My money is on that figure continuing to drop after 2008. It is great to see the efforts of all of these economic patriots to work for themselves and not their nation during this time of crisis. Lauder, unlike others, at least has provided some public benefit through a few of his tax-avoidance strategies. But that isn't a high bar to clear.

That brings us to Senator Coburn, someone with whom I rarely ever find reason to find common cause. But on this issue — this specific issue — we can agree.

“This welfare for the well-off — costing billions of dollars a year — is being paid for with the taxes of the less fortunate, many who are working two jobs just to make ends meet, and i.o.u.’s to be paid off by future generations,” said Senator Coburn…"

That is a sensible position. Alas, despite the deficit hysteria gripping Washington, D.C., reforms on this subject probably remain off the table.

Although I think the fact it is even being discussed at all is a small, but perhaps growing, victory for the Occupy movement.

Time Magazine Thinks U.S. Readers Are Idiots

Or: one of these things is not like the others. Time puts a photo of the demonstrations in Egypt on the covers of its editions around the world.

The U.S. gets a nice cartoon about why anxiety is good for you.

No. Seriously.

When a “Shocking Truth” May Be Untrue

Alternet's Joshua Holland has an important post here about overreaching claims that there are federal forces seeking to destroy the Occupy movement by ordering local authorities to take coordinated actions against it.

The first problem with Naomi Wolf's piece? It claims AlterNet had a scoop on something it has not reported. As Holland writes:

Here’s how she opens her blog-post:

"Now is the time to get cops on board with the OWS movement — especially now that Alternet has broken the story that municipal police are being pushed around by a shadowy private policing consultancy affiliated with DHS. If you study any closing society decent people get handed monstrous orders and are forced to comply, and right now municipal police are being forced to comply with brutal orders from this corporate police consultancy, by economic pressure."

AlterNet has “broken” no such story – nobody has. We have asked Wolf to retract this claim, but as of this writing, it still remains on her site several days later.

Holland continues through many more points.

Federal intervention of this type would be, as Holland notes, an incredibly important story. But it does not serve those who support the Occupy movement to overreach in their analysis about the forces against i

Exposing the Big Lie of the Financial Crisis

In this post Barry Ritholtz combines his excellent recent column about emerging Big Lie of the economic crisis with charts and graphs exposing just how wrong it would be to see our attention diverted from what happened.

This matters because it is impossible to solve a problem without first identifying it. The banks and their supporters may want to shift blame.

We should not fall for it.

Address Is Approximate

Take three minutes and watch one of the best uses of Google Street View you will ever see. (h/t Barry Ritholtz)

Address Is Approximate from The Theory on Vimeo.

Hello, Governor Sam Brownback!

A student makes a snarky comment about Governor Sam Brownback (R-18th Century). His communications director, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, decides to handle this by getting her in trouble at school.

And that's when international social media hilarity begins! The Kansas City Star's Mara Rose Williams writes:

Emma Sullivan’s trip to Topeka with other high school students to learn about government taught her a few unexpected lessons:

•  Gov. Sam Brownback’s office monitors social media for postings containing the governor’s name.

•  Some folks exhibit little sense of humor or appreciation of free expression.

•  And sometimes a few “joking” words can land a student in the principal’s office, drafting a letter of apology.

Well, isn't that a great learning experience. Perhaps even for Jones-Sontag, who has seen her actions lead to making this a several-day national story. Nice work! And a great example of small government too!

I do, however, wonder just how Jones-Sontag's "routine daily monitoring of comments on Twitter and Facebook" is going today?