Who Should I Vote For?

October 20, 2010

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Election day is looming – and with it, the decision of whom to vote for. 

For the majority of Americans, this won’t be a difficult choice.  As devoted members of the Democratic, Republicans, or Toga party, they will simply vote for the candidate with a D, R, or T next to their name.

However, millions of unaffiliated voters will face a choice when they stare at the ballot.  Conventional wisdom suggests that voters should cast a vote for the candidate whom they have the most in common with.  But is this a time to turn conventional wisdom on its head?

There are hundreds of issues that you can take a stance on, but the vast majority are irrelevant for one of three reasons:

  • You don’t have particularly strong views on the issue
  • Nearly everyone agrees with you
  • Nearly everyone disagrees with you

By definition, an issue that you don’t care about very much shouldn’t sway your vote.  It really doesn’t matter if you vote for someone who agrees or disagrees with you – it won’t have much of an impact on your life.

If an issue has widespread support, it’s also irrelevant.  For example, I favor sustained peaceful relations with Canada (despite the fact that they have soiled the good name of bacon by releasing their own, inferior version).  Of course, so does nearly everyone else.  Regardless of whether I vote for a pro-Canada or anti-Canada candidate, I don’t see a war against Canada in the near future.

How about the flip side of this – an issue where nearly everyone disagrees with you.  Let’s say I support the deportation of all Nebraska residents to a colony on the moon (I’m fairly sure that I’m not in favor of this).    While this idea would likely get some support from people in other Big 12 states, it’s not likely to get more than token support in congress.  So even if I vote for the Nebraska-Moon party candidate, it’s not going to happen.

(Yes, these examples are both pretty contrived)

What does that leave us with?  Issues that are both:

  • Important to you
  • Competitive

I’ll quantify “competitive” as some with between about 43% of 57% support (among people who have an opinion on the issue).  This is an arbitrary range, but “feels right”.  These are issues where you can actually make a difference – if you and like-minded people elect a few people to congress who share your views, you may push support from minority to majority (or vice versa) and get new legislation enacted.

This year, two issues are front and center for me.

The first is gay marriage.  I have not friends that are openly gay, but I have become a strong proponent of allowing gay couples to get married (not just civil unions, but actual marriage).  I’ve written on this a number of times, and am not going to rehash everything I have said in the past.  Suffice it to say that it’s an issue that I feel strongly about.

The supreme court of Iowa (where I live) has deemed that a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.  Opponents of the rule would like to enact a constitutional amendment to trump this ruling … but state law dictates that such a proposal must pay in two separate state general assemblies, at which point it would be placed on the ballot.  The current makeup of the state legislature doesn’t have enough support to get the ball rolling – and I’ll do my part to ensure that this remains true.

On the judicial side, three of the justices (the only three up for renewal this November) who joined in the unanimous opinion are under attack by groups opposing the ruling, who are running ads asking voters to throw them out of office.  In Iowa, voters simply vote to retain a judge or not retain them.  It’s not common for this to become politicized.  The judges, of course, can’t simply have fund-raisers to run their own ads – as this would be a major conflict of interest.  A group siding with the judges has recently begun to run ads.

I’ll be voting “retain”.  If the justices are thrown out because of this decision, what sort of message is this sending to the court?  A pretty clear one – don’t make decisions that could be unpopular, even if the decision is correct.  That’s a disturbing thought.  I have no problem throwing out justices who engage is judicial misconduct – but not for simply making a controversial decision. 

The second issue is the privatization of social security.  This falls completely on the other side of the political spectrum from gay marriage – being supported only by conservatives.

I’m very puzzled by the politicization of this issue.  Groups who oppose privatization point to downturns in the stock market and suggest that turning over Social Security to Wall Street would be very risky.

Of course, nobody has ever suggested that people take the contributions that currently go to Social Security (12.4% of wages) and throw them into penny stocks.  In my particular situation, I can beat the return of Social Security by putting your money into 30 year treasuries (this is not an exaggeration – my rate of return on Social Security is projected to be slightly over 2%).  Your mileage may vary a bit, but the reality is that you don’t need to take on a lot of risk to beat the return of social security (in my case, no additional risk).

This issue is probably a bit outside my range, as I don’t know that it has 43%.  However, I do feel that the issue would have considerably more support if it were properly explained on a bigger stage.

I doubt that these are the two issues that you care most about.  However, I suspect that you have a number of issues that are important to you and also competitive  – make sure your view is represented on these issues.

Things That Grind My Gears

September 1, 2010

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Dog Poop

There’s a “lady” in my neighborhood who takes her dog for walks.  This is hardly unusual – there are a number of folks in the neighborhood with dogs.  This person stands out because of her unwillingness to clean up after her dog.  I’ve spotted the dastardly duo on neighbors’ lawns a number of times, but never in time to pop my head out of the door to remind her of her duty.  On occasions, there have been droppings on my own lawn, and while I don’t have concrete evidence to prove who the poopetrator is, I have a very good idea.

I’m not a “dog person”, but I have nothing against dogs.  What I do dislike is having dog poop on my lawn.  If I wanted dog poop on my lawn, I’d have a dog.  If you’re going to have a dog, you need to be accountable and clean up after your dog.  Even if this isn’t against the law in your town, this is just basic common courtesy to your neighbors.  Don’t be surprised if you gain a very negative reputation and that your neighbors become hesitant to pitch in when you need help with anything.  You show a complete lack of respect for their property – why should they lift a finger for you?

Bristol Palin

When the next season of Dancing With the Stars kicks off, the dace floor will feature luminaries such as Kurt Warner, Florence Henderson, and Bristol Palin.  For the last couple of years, we have been privy to the love/hate relationship between Bristol and Levi, with occasional commentary from Bristol’s mom.  Allegations have been made that Levi was trying to extend his 15 minutes of fame and would do anything to stay in the spotlight.

That might be the case, but Bristol is hardly staying in the shadows.  For a few months, she was working as a receptionist at a dermatologist’s office.  More recently, she has found more profitable work.  She travels around the country promoting abstinence.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with spreading that message.  The $15,000 – $30,000 fee she receives for each speaking engagements also helps build a college fund for Trigg.  Bristol also appeared on an episode of The Secret Life of The American Teenager.  Now, Dancing With the Stars.  What next – a regular gig on The View?  Is this a family trying to lead, or a family trying to achieve fame?  I was recently discussing Sarah Palin with a staunchly conservative friend of mine who commented “she’s not the leader of MY party.”

Privatizing Social Security

The last item might lead you to believe that I’m a hard core Democrat, but this isn’t the case.  I do lean left on quite a few issues, but I’m an unaffiliated voter who also agrees with Republicans on a lot of issues.  One of these issues is privatization of Social Security.  When Bush proposed this, I aligned myself with him and supported the idea – at least at a high level.

Those who oppose privatization – including lobbyists such as AARP – point to downturns in the market and suggest that those nearing retirement age could have lost substantial portions of their nest egg if they had invested in the market.  This is true – but it’s worth noting that you don’t need to invest in stocks to beat the return of Social Security.  Take a look at the rates of return for Social Security, according to a document on SSA’s web site.  The important table is table 1 (the second table in the document).  If you’re younger married couple at the medium earning level, you’re looking at a rate of return around 2.5%.  In comparison, 30 year treasuries are currently yielding upwards of 3.5%.  Is Social Security safer than treasuries?  Of course not –  both are backed by the US Government.  Essentially, the risk is the same.

NCAA Tackles Jeremiah Masoli On End Around

This one falls into the category of things that no longer grind my gears.  After being kicked off the Oregon football team for off-field transgressions, star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli transferred to Mississippi.  Generally, players who transfer must sit on year before they are allowed to play again (the year off doesn’t count against their eligibility). 

There is an exception that allows (but does not force) the NCAA to grant a waiver (making the player immediately eligible) if the player has completed his undergraduate degree and enrolls at another school in order to pursue a graduate degree in a major not offered by his old school.  This was the case with Masoli.  He is enrolled in the Parks and Recreation graduate program at Ole Miss – a degree not offered by Oregon.

Yesterday, the NCAA denied Masoli’s request for a waiver, saying that this type of waiver is intended to avoid hampering a student-athlete’s academic pursuits, rather than a way to avoid a punishment levied by his old school.  Good call, NCAA.