Durbin Toes the Line, Kirk Goes Against the Grain

ProPublica has an API that exports Congressional voting patterns so that people can review their representatives voting habits.  In downloading the data for senators, I noticed so marked differences in the voting patterns between the two senators for Illinois.

Note:  The data below was cleaned and compiled by me.  If you want to a better look at the charts or download the data go here: https://public.tableau.com/profile/steve.rubendall#!/vizhome/CongressVotingPatterns/Data

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Kirk is sort of a rebel, with the 3rd highest rate of voting against his own party in the Senate.  I’d chalk this up to representing a very Democratic state.  Other notable rebels are two former presidential candidates Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

Durbin on the other hand toes the party line.  He is the 3rd lowest in voting against his party.  This is likely because he is the Minority Whip.  For all that Berne wants to be, he toes the Democratic party line more often than not, voting against the Dems less than others in his party.

 

 

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As for votes missed Kirk ‘misses’ about 6% of the votes about double Durbin’s number this term.  This chart is stark for former presidential candidates.  Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz miss 1 in 3 votes with Berne missing over 1 in 3.

 

 

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When looking at the Congress as a whole, the Democrats are more unified in their voting patterns in both houses.  The Senate is especially ruckus for the Republicans with over half of their party voting against itself over 1 in 10 times.

 

 

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In general, the my house rep, Darin LaHood, is a  pretty solid vote for the Republicans.  I guess he has to be since our previous rep, Aaron Schock resigned because of his decorative and travel escapades.

Bureaucracy and the NYPD Slowdown

NYPD BadgeOver the last few days, I’ve watched the goings on with the police force slowdown in New York with some interest.  As the police have done less, there has been little change in overall crime.  Opponents say this is proof that there is something amiss in the NYPD and their tactics.  In truth, it hasn’t been long enough to prove much of anything except arrests and citations do not necessarily make a society safer.  To me, it unearths the shows the inherent problems with the modern bureaucracy.

Since a society without codified rules can be an unwelcoming place, especially to minority viewpoints, a bureaucracy is necessary.  The problem is that we often go too far and end up codifying social norms and making minor offenses subject to fines.  This leads to arbitrary, asymmetrical justice and increases mistrust of the system.

Vincent Freeman, Illegal jaywalker for the sake of a womanTake jaywalking.  With the rise in autos, many cities made it illegal because drivers disapproved of people crossing willy-nilly.  It made sense as it could improve driver and pedestrian safety.  Upon enforcement however, government bureaucracy makes it is a mess. 

Example: A person jaywalks and a police officer stops them.  In this situation, the officer has great leeway depending on the overall interaction.  They could:

  1. Let the person go after warning them on the dangers
  2. Run their name through the warrant system
  3. Pat them down to see if they are committing other crimes
  4. Write them a jaywalking citation

Ideally, all involved would want the least invasive to happen.  The police officer to tell them not to do it again and leave the matter at that.  However, the bureaucracy prevents this.  There are ticket quotas or standard operating procedures to run names or to stop and frisk people committing minor offenses.

What happens is that more often than not after a citizen’s private life is reviewed, they end up with a citation.  Even if they go to court and prove themselves innocent, they still pay court costs and take time out of their lives to fight it.  So in the end, it is often lose-lose interaction when a police officer stops a citizen.

What makes this more insidious is that getting caught for jaywalking varies depending on where it happened in a city.  Police patrol more in high-crime areas.  These tend to be poorer neighborhoods that are statistically more likely to have a greater portion of minorities.  So, citizens in these areas end up with more citations and more negative perceptions of the police.

This hurts neighborhoods.  It makes people avoid police.  Many have had run ins for minor offences, and those who haven’t feel they can get scrutinized for trivial matters.  Often the citizenry becomes disdainful, making interactions with authorities tenser than they need to be.  Polices in-turn feel many of the citizens they protect are criminals, given their reluctance to communicate amicably.

In the short-term, I think the slowdown is good for New Yorkers in general.  It will give people time to cool off.  If it continues long-term, it might be of questionable benefit as society adjusts to these changes. 

It would be a good time to rethink how police should interact with who they protect.  They could start by abandoning revenue (citation) generating quotas.  This simple change would lessen the adversarial nature of many interactions as police no longer target minor infractions in an effort to stay employed.

Tableau Data Mining Fun – McLean County’s Sales Tax Referendium

2014-03-08 21_54_26-McLean County, IL - Official WebsiteI am following the debate around Bloomington about the March 18 referendum to add a 1% sales tax for schools.  Like any issue pitching money v kids, the conservatives v progressives are battling it out.  Those voting yes think about our children’s education, those against don’t want to see taxes go up.

Note: to educate yourself on the issue, I recommend reading Stifel Nicolaus Presentation to MCSD [PowerPoint] for details.

Unfortunately, neither this presentation nor the rhetoric online do good job comparing McLean county to other in the state.  So, what does the data say about what we already spend? 

I looked into this issue using 2012 Illinois State Board of Education data and threw it into Tableau to pretty up the spreadsheets.


This graphic is a is a little small. If you want to see these dashboards in their full glory, go here.

Mclean county is 28th (of 102) in spending, roughly a bit above the average, which is skewed by Chicago as they spend far more per student. We are ranked 8th in both our ACT scores and ISAT (an elementary school test.)

Not bad, though the county average mask the highly variable quality of our schools depending on which school a student attends. It is safe to assume that State Farm’s professional base gives are big lift overall.

Overall, I will vote No not because I dislike paying taxes for good causes, but because sales taxes are regressive, hurting the poor more. They pay a higher proportion of income on goods, which are taxed. Wealthier people spend more on services and save more, both of which are untaxed locally. I’d rather see a progressive income tax or property tax levy hike, if it is needed. But increased spending rarely increases our kids preparedness for life.

I might have voted differently if our schools where severely underfunded or our schools were underperforming, which the data suggests that neither is true.

Never Let the Consitution or Rational Thought Get in the Way of a Good Story

Change

The House of Representatives wants to pass a “no budget, no pay” bill that encourages the Senate to pass a budget, something that it hasn’t done since the 2008 budget, less they forgo paychecks.  However, there is a slight Constitutional problem in that it likely violates the 27th amendment governing congressional pay.  I enjoy watching the hypocrisy.  Many of the same lawmakers are scare mongering that our 2nd amendment rights are about to be curtailed post Sandy Hook, but I digress.

This tiny issue aside, my interest is thinking about the behavioral motivation this will unleash.  Is the loss of some of a $174,000 yearly salary motivation enough for people with a average net worth of about 14 million

For those poorer congress people, the main incentive will be to pass something fast, not something good.  For instance, if Ford said to its workers, “no paycheck until you build 10,000 cars,” would you buy any of the resulting Pintos?  The would likely mean lots of pet projects inserted the final bill in a effort to bride enough lawmakers to vote yes.

If anyone did run short of money, there is always a trusted fallback, lobbyists.  These helpful people help write the laws anyway, I am sure many of them would pony up to pay for personal expenses, if the need should arrive.

The whole idea is good theater, but little substance since it fixes a non-existent issue.  Depending on your point of view, we spend too much or tax too little and a budget would fix this problem.

Opening Sourcing the Obama Back Office Code

Logo of Open Source Initiative

It looks like the Obama team will scrap their back office code rather than open source it.  Some of the software engineers complain that the less technical minded Democrats fear its use outside donkey’s tent.  I doubt that is the real reason.

The are many more logical reasons to abandon the code:    
  

  • Code is expensive maintain.

  Sorry engineers, systems cost a lot of money and open source doesn’t make it much less costly.  The Dems would still have to pay good money for someone to watch over the project, even if it is open sourced.  What makes the problem worse is its niche status and as such it has little chance for improvement.  Local candidates don’t even have the resources to operate these the tools let alone update the code and there are too few with the millions necessary to operate such a beast.

  • Data over technology.  Data is the life blood of any organization, political opportunist or no.  The technology team should document their design, so that in two years, the next group can hit the ground running with the better tools we’ll have invented.
  • People over technology.  What gave Obama the edge is he had really smart quants analyzing the data.  Having good technology makes it easier for users, but brainy people analyzing data for information is way more important.
  • Process over technology.  How a team decides to put all the processes and work flows together is more important than the user interface or any block of code.  This is likely the real reason it will never to see the light of day. 
  • Despite this, I do side with the software developers.  I’d like the code freed and see what they came up with and how it works.  I bet the design methods are the true innovations and I could see why the Obama team is a little leery about giving that competitive advantage away.   

    The Trillion Dollar Coin

    Admittedly, I missed the first roe about minting the coin to end all coins a few years back.  Now, the impractical idea has came roaring back, sparking debates, bills to ban it, and estimations of its size

    trillion_dollar_bill-simpsons
    Greatest theft ever

    The idea sparks the imagination, but in the real world the US Treasury would just print a bill or enter 1 and 12 zeros into an account.  It has been long tried.  Create money and spend it.  The coin is a euphemism for inflation.  Whether a coin, bill, or just a checking account the media makes little difference. 

    The hope is that it the coin would kick start our economy before inflation ate the spending power.  Today, this is done covertly though borrowing.  Minting coins would just make it more obvious. 

    If we do such they should give the resulting cash to the US citizens.  At least we could have fun with the $3 grand until the hangover hit.  However, this won’t happen.  Some would save or pay down debts.  Party poopers.

    Real Gun Control Won’t Happen

    I have been following the gun control debate after the Sandy Hook shootings with an interest toward how we’ll fail to accomplish much of anything lasting.  Sure, there will be laws passed at all levels of government as well as the inevitable lawsuits.  However, these will not solve the basic problems causing gun violence in the US.

    NRA is right; gun aren’t the cause, they are the tools of violence.  However, much of the rest of their rhetoric, such as if we ban guns only criminals will have them, is insipid and lends nothing to the debate.

    Gun control advocates are also have some facts on their side.  There is too many guns in the US today.  Though they are short-sighted to think that stricter laws or outright bans will do anything in the near to mid-term.

    The problems are societal.  Some are a part of our DNA, which started hundreds of years ago as the Europeans kicked out the Native Americans.  The solutions are difficult culturally but need not be expensive and insurmountable.

    1. Better mental healthcare, especially for young men.  Face it, men are more likely to murder.  It also takes an odd duck to go into a place and kill unarmed people.  One change is to update state and local laws to make it easier for people to get loved ones help.  Also we need religious, social,and charitable help lines for those who see help on their own.
    2. Increase work opportunities for ex-con and those with lower skills and education.  This would not have helped the children Sandy Hook, but at some of the 30,000+ deaths from guns a year could be prevented if people people had something legal to do.
    3. Legalization of drugs, starting with marijuana.  Gang deaths were around 29,400 in 2011.  Legalization of drug would significantly lower gun violence by taking the profit out of the trade.  Who would go to a dealer when you could pick up a pack of joints at Walmart?  Mexico would thank us too.
    4. Less ghettoization.  Most poor live in poor areas clustered together, especially in cities.  Current zoning laws play a heavy roll in this.  Richer areas set zoning laws that stifle affordable housing such as apartments and other high density living to protect their property values.  This puts the poor area with fewer job prospects.  It also makes it harder to interact with other classes to network, a key in finding better paying jobs.
    5. Social change to stigmatize gun hording and survivalist conduct.  The changes in public attitudes did more to decrease the cigarette smoking rate than any $1 a pack tax rise or law banning public smoking.  A concerted effort by family, friends, and society is needed to make it more difficult for the negative activity to take place in society. 

    As you can see, most of my ideas are local in nature.  The Federal government can do little to make a difference.  Even if they were to ban all gun sales, it would be decades before we’d see an effect as there is at least 310 million guns is the US today.