Monday, February 13, 2017

Protesters: The Soros-is-Paying Claim

In the wake of the 2016 election and 2017 inauguration, we have seen hundreds of protests. These have ranged in size from millions on January 21st with the Women's March on Washington to many smaller local events targeting specific issues. As these protests, rallies, and marches have continued, some have made spurious claims about who is involved in the protests. I plan to take a bit of time to analyze these claims. In this post, I address the claim that protesters are being paid by George Soros.

Raw labor cost

Today, let us take at face value the claim that protesters are, in fact, being paid to attend the rallies. As we did when calculating the cost of shipping in protesters, we'll start with the Moral March on Raleigh that took place on February 11 and use the conservative estimated attendance of 10,000.


How much would a protester get paid? A similar job might be an extra in a movie or TV show, so let's find out what they make. EntertainmentCareers.net indicates that union member extras earn $110 per eight hour day plus overtime for any hours beyond that. This comes out to $13.75 per hour for normal time. Since there's probably not a Protesters Union[citation needed], let's drop the cost to just $10 per hour.


The Moral March on Raleigh was a four hour event, not counting commuting, preparation time, setup, and cleanup. It's time for more math again!
Okay, we can handle that, right? To a billionaire, $400,000 is pocket change. Of course, this is just one out of hundreds of protests, marches, and rallies, not to mention all of those town halls, calls to senators and representatives, postcards and letters, visits to congressional offices, and more.

Let's again take a low-ball, shot-in-the-dark estimate and say there have been twenty five similarly sized protests each weekend for the last four weekends since the inauguration. Let's also come up with a rough tally for all of the other actions based on some articles from reputable sources. From this Politico article just about the DeVos confirmation, we can tally up approximately 85,000 calls, emails, and letters targeted at just five senators out of 100.

Let's also assume each contact takes one minute on average including the time waiting for a staffer to pick up the phone. Also, since these actions can be taken from home maybe they only get $5 per hour. Finally, the Politico article was written on January 26th. A more recent CNN article indicates that as many as 1.5 million calls per day have been coming in to the Senate, which approximately matches our number above. Go us! There have been 24 days since the inauguration. Hey look, it's more math.
And let's add in the rough estimate of 100 protests at the previously calculated cost of $400,000 each.
Over $43 million, and we haven't factored in the cost of all those signs people are carrying, sound and stage equipment, port-a-potties, and more. Let's just pretend that's all free, because why not.

Show them the money

At this point, we some how have to get $43 million dollars distributed to people. Are we going to write them all checks? Unlikely. It takes me about half a minute to write a check, even if I leave the name blank for the person to fill in later. If I write two checks a minute to just the 10,000 people who attended this past weekend's event, we're talking 5,000 minutes or 83 hours or nearly three and a half days of continual writing. Can you say "hand cramp"?

Let's try raw cash instead. Cash is good, right? Wait - what bank is going to just let me make a $43 million cash withdrawal without getting suspicious and notifying authorities? And how do we disperse that? Even if we had, say, twenty people we trusted to stand in front of a mountain of cash it would take them quite a bit of time to give everyone their pay, and you know someone would get a picture of that to put on the internet.

Perhaps the only way is some form of electronic dispersal. We could use payroll software like ADP. Now we just need to enter at least 10,000 people into the system and... Think about how long it took you as an individual to get set up in your company's payroll system and then multiple that by ten thousand - for just a single march. Also, we're now the size of a massive corporation, and spending money in similar volumes, too. We probably need people full time in HR, financial, and legal (to either pay taxes or somehow hide all of these transactions). This is ballooning way out of proportion.

We've got 99 problems but a check ain't one

This all leads me to this inevitable conclusion:

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Protesters: The Out-of-State Claim

In the wake of the 2016 election and 2017 inauguration, we have seen hundreds of protests. These have ranged in size from millions on January 21st with the Women's March on Washington to many smaller local events targeting specific issues. As these protests, rallies, and marches have continued, some have made spurious claims about who is involved in the protests. I plan to take a bit of time to analyze these claims. In this post, I address the claim that protesters are sent in from out of state.

Getting There

Suppose, for a moment, that protesters are sent in from out of state to make protests appear larger. One recent protest in the central North Carolina area was the Moral March on Raleigh which took place on February 11th. While some estimate that 80,000 people attended, other news organizations are simply citing "thousands." (ABC11, WRAL) Let's take the conservative estimate of 10,000 attendees.

Charter Bus
Now, these people had to be brought in somehow. How do you transport 10,000 people? Buses would be one of the most cost effective ways to transport large volumes of people. Now, to get a quote for the price of a charter bus, we need to know where they're going to start from. Washington, D.C. is one of the closest liberal havens to central North Carolina so seems a good starting point. There are probably at least 10,000 liberals in the D.C. area, right? Right. 

Okay, now that we know where we're coming from, we can start to price out this trip. BusRates.com has a pretty easy interface that doesn't ask us too many questions so lets start there. To cut down on costs, we're going to say "No" to hotels, attractions, and restaurants.
Our list of results is pretty reasonable and starts with a pretty good bet. A 56 seat charter bus for only $1,200 per day plus $3.99 per mile! A little farther on is an executive bus for $1,900 but there's no need to go overboard here. There's only 7 of them but maybe other services have similar buses available. Here's hoping, anyway.

Okay - so just for the bus service we'll need... how many? And how many miles? Google Maps gives us a rough estimate of 278 miles from D.C. to Raleigh and a travel time of a little over 4 hours. Let's do some math.


Good, that's 179 buses. Now, assuming just a one day rental, we'll have to pick everyone up around 4 AM to make the 8:30 start time and then we'll leave when the march ends at noon and be back in time for dinner. That's reasonable, right? What will the cost be just for the massive fleet of buses?


Wow - okay. We're talking over half a million just for transportation for one march. And if there were only twenty five such protests each weekend for the past four weekends since the inauguration we're talking 100 protests which would be sixty-one million dollars on transportation.

Let them eat... something?

Certainly people wouldn't come from out of state, traveling and marching and traveling again for twelve hours straight without at least something to eat and perhaps drink. Let's assume that they all bring along their own water bottles so the latter is free. But food? Well, I don't know about you but over the course of twelve hours of activity I usually have three meals. Let's skimp and just give them two. We can even go super cheap and try to feed them for, say $2 each for each meal if we get some crap in bulk.

Okay, and recall this is just one protest out of approximately a hundred so we're talking another four million dollars. This total of $65 million is sounding kind of massive, and we haven't even talked about paying the protesters. Maybe they'll work just for the crappy food? Let's leave it at that for now.

Problems

We have many problems already, though. First, where do you get a fleet of 179 buses? Second, how to you get them nearly 300 miles from DC to NC without drawing too much attention either way? Third, where do you park all those 45 foot long buses so someone won't get a picture of them to post all over social media? Hint - none of this can be done. Clearly, these protesters did not come from out of state given the prohibitive cost and lack of any evidence of a tremendous bus fleet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Religious freedom. A basic human right.

As a Jew, I am well are of the potential consequences of mainstream politicians ostracizing and scapegoating a portion of the population based on religious beliefs. Some statements are truth, some half-truths, and some blatant lies that somehow persist. For example, Jews were attacked with the blood libel for centuries.

I will not stand idly by as others are attacked in this way. I will not be silent at the persecution of my fellow human beings. There is no just cause, ever, anywhere, for labeling and segmenting a group based on race, ethnicity, religion, creed, nationality, orientation, or other shared characteristic they inherited by birth.

There are millions suffering at the hands of DAESH (a.k.a. ISIL, ISIS), and most of those are Muslims. They need our help, the world's help, in fact, and we must not turn our backs. Every life we can save is a world saved. Every life we fail to save is a world lost.

--

In a similar vein, if anyone tries to tell you that, "unlike Christianity, Islam is religion of violence" remind them that there are Christians who have interpreted the Bible to mean non-Christians should be forcibly converted or slaughtered. Perhaps they've heard of the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, the Balkan war (Christian Serbs slaughtering Muslim Yugoslavians as the country disintegrated into civil war), or the current genocide occurring in the Central African Republic in the name of Christianity.

Also, direct them to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quran_and_violence . In particular, call out quotes such as:

'According to Feisal Abdul Rauf, "the Quran expressly and unambiguously prohibits the use of coercion in faith because coercion would violate a fundamental human right—the right to a free conscience. A different belief system is not deemed a legitimate cause for violence or war under Islamic law. The Quran is categorical on this: "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:256); "Say to the disbelievers [that is, atheists, or polytheists, namely those who reject God] "To you, your beliefs, to me, mine" (109:1-6)"'

Knowledge and facts are power.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Small government, and why it isn't just selfish

A friend of mine posted a very well written and easy to digest post on why he believes in small government.  It's well worth a read, even if you, like me, don't agree with his conclusions.  At least you'll find yourself nodding along with the goals we all agree on.

Please read so the next time someone brings it up you won't immediately think they're an idiot.  Frankly, the next time anyone brings up a political discussion you should approach it with an open mind.  Reading his post is just one way to start doing that.

You'll find my response in his comments if you're interested.  I may flesh it out into something larger to post here at some point.

More here:

Monday, December 24, 2012

What Freedom of Speech means

Recently, Piers Morgan interviewed a gun rights advocate Larry Pratt [1]. In this interview, he does call the interviewee "an unbelievably stupid man" which is admittedly a rather odd turn of phrase to use on national television as an interviewer. The conversation continues and it's clear neither man has much respect for the opinions of the other.

Even so, we see that, in response, gun rights advocates (lead by infowars.com [2]) have created a petition to deport Mr. Morgan. [3] This is utter nonsense. For anyone who holds the second amendment in such high regard, one could expect that other amendments to the constitution would be deemed of great import, as well.

Take, for instance, the first amendment. It protects not just free speech but also freedom of the press. [4] To be precise, it also protects the freedom to "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" which, in theory, protects the right of those offended to petition. At the very same time, it does not protect them from making fools of themselves with their ignorance of the rest of the first amendment.

Piers Morgan is in no way inciting to riot, calling "fire" in a crowded theater, advocating violence, esposing any form of treason, or performing any number of other violiations of the reasonable limits on free speech or freedom of the press. To deport him would be create a new precedent which has never existed - the right to not hear opinions you disagree with.

For anyone who is baffled by the desire to deport a journalist for sharing his views, please consider signing and sharing a different petition to remind the gun-rights advocates of the first amendment. Than you for your time.

[1] Larry Pratt interview
[2] "The Law Says Deport Piers Morgan"
[3] Petition to deport Piers Morgan
[4] First Amendment to the US Constitution

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Another year, another campaign

As summer begins, the reality of another presidential election year campaign is setting in on me. I'm seeing more and more ads from both Romney and President Obama harping on the other's record. Each tingles my skeptic nerve, though I do appreciate that the latter's ads includes graphs to help show there is some data and numerical processing behind their claims. That's not to say the claims themselves aren't distortions or partial truths, of course. In contrast, the Romney ads have generally only spoken numbers and didn't put them in greater context.

I'll be relying a great deal on PolitiFact.com and similar sources to help sift through the sound bites to the true data. Please do the same, or at least take what you hear with a grain of salt. If any particularly glaring examples come to my attention, I'll write up the results of my research here.

Stay tuned - this blog isn't abandoned, just hibernating through the long primary season winter.

Update at 3:45 PM: Here's and example of a misleading graphic from the Obama camp. Outsourcing jobs. Romney himself didn't outsource jobs, companies owned by the venture capital firm he headed did so, perhaps at his firm's directive. Did the outsourcing occur while he we still working there? We don't know from the graphic.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Speaking Diplomatically

I have a strong distaste for what we might call "Cowboy Politics." It's one thing to believe that a foreign nation is acting in a way that is adverse to our nation's interest and another to publically call them part of an "axis of evil", for one thing. Tough talk sounds great in movies and, to some extent, presidential debates, but in the end, we live in a world with shades of deep grey in our international relationships. We have to live with the world community when all is said and done - we can't simply ignore or bomb them into agreeing with us.

So, when a top candidate for the Republican Party's nomination calls the Palestinian people an "invented" people[1], he is treading on thin ice. Many countries strongly disagree with the sentiment, including many of the fledling democracies rising from the Arab Spring. Now is the time to be focussing on constructive conversations with the nations risinig from decades of oppressive rule, not to give them more reasons to hate us and shun our counsel.

Some people may decry this as appeasement and too soft a stance - after all, we're the world's only superpower, right? As a student of history, I would respond that nations rise and fall, and our time as the sole mega force may be waning. China and India are certainly on the rise. The Eurozone, though in dire financial straits and unable at present to form a tighter union, is still not to be discounted. Russia still weilds great influence, if dimished from their USSR heights. If we act brashly now, who will stand by us when next we experience disaster, natural or manmade? Make friends before you need them, before it's too late.

If only the politics of moderation were more in vogue - it seems that each of the two major parties becomes more and more polarized as time goes on. Centrist candidates for congress have been thinned by those more on the extremes, thus leading to stalemaes multiple times this year as representatives refuse to compromise. Shooting from the hip and appearing strong do not make us so. Our leaders need to be careful what enemies they make, both for themselves and the rest of us. Gingrich - I ask you to recant and temper your language. If you seriously want the nomination, you must act presidential. That means you must always put the nation's best interest before your own personal whim and desire.

[1] Palestinians Bristle At Gingrich Comments

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Disingenuity

I believe most politicians get where they're going by obfuscating the truth. This could include selective truths, omitting facts that run counter to the desired argument. It might be through use of deceptive statistics (e.g. choosing to use percentage versus numerical volume or vice versa - if you say only 1% of Americans it doesn't have the same impact as saying "3 million people", for example). Perhaps they intentionally misquote or take out of context the words of their opponents.[1][2] They might even simply lie.[3]

Yet, politicians continue to bend the truth to try to make their case stronger. The media often buys into it, repeating their assertions and using them as counterweight to opposing viewpoints. Some of this is in the interest of appearing to be non-partisan, but it simply detracts from the level of debate.

It's wonderful that in this day and age we can use sites like Snopes, PolitiFact, and FactCheck, among others, to help sort fact from fiction. However, that requires time and effort. Why go to the trouble of validate all the numbers we hear from politicians, reporters, and the various spin doctors when we can just take their word for it? That's not to mention all the data we receive from coworkers, friends, family, and everyone else we happen to know who got their information from who knows where. We could spend all our time checking facts and never get anything useful done.

The intensity of the arguments I've read about whether or not there actually existed a surplus in the late nineties is remarkable, for example, particularly because the main ones both got their data from the Congressional Budget Office. When two people look at the same data and arrive at different conclusions, who do you believe? Do you trust the person with the right degree? The person who says what you want to hear? How do you choose?

If only there were a way to know whether the person actually believed what they're saying instead of simply listening to them. Certainly, two people might believe completely incongruent facts, or even one person might have a set of beliefs that are not consistent, but at least that way we would know that they're not trying to deceive us.

Then again, is it just as bad to be unintentionally led astray as if it were planned?

Who do you trust?

[1] Lipstick on a Pig had nothing to do with Palin
[2] Governor Perry's calling President Obama a "dark cloud" hanging over the economy is racist?
[3] Jon Kyl claims Planned Parenthood services are well over 90%

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In Debt We Trust

How do we avoid default at this stage as a nation? Can the two parties arrive at a reasonable solution that not only gets us past this crisis but also leaves us with a better balance sheet than before?


I just read an interview over at Global Post[1] that makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, it does sound like a two phase solution would be most fruitful at this stage since tempers are so high after weeks of negotiating. The current proposals by Senator Reid and Speaker Boehner are farther from the compromise solutions than is resolvable in the time we have before default. The markets are already reacting and are likely to continue suffering so long as no clear path emerges.


One proposal I've read about is a clean bill including nothing but a debt limit increase. At this point, there would still likely be bipartisan support for such a bill and it would buy time to continue negotiating the finer points of deficit reduction without the stress of a looming deadline. Is this workable? Perhaps, though as the ratings agencies stated it might still result in a rate reduction and thus higher cost for future borrowing.


[1]Debt Crisis interview

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ready to debtonate

Have you heard of the debt ceiling debates? Yes? Okay - skip to paragraph two. So there's this limit called the "debt ceiling" that defines how much money the treasury can borrow via bond and similar instruments to pay for the programs and spending authorized by congress and signed into law by the president. We keep having to raise this limit because we're spending money faster than we're taking it in. On or around August 2nd we will reach the current limit and then be able to pay for about half of the stuff that we're currently doing without any new borrowing.


The debate has faltered numerous times over the last few months. There are several sticking points, or lines in the sand. Most revolve around a strong desire to reform our country's financial situation as a stipulation for raising this debt ceiling. Here are the two main issues I see at the moment:

  1. Tea Party Republicans insist the limit be raised only with spending cuts attached, not with any increased tax revenue from current levels
  2. President Obama, Senator Reid, and now Representative Pelosi, among others, want the limit raised enough that we won't have to debate this again before the 2012 election


The first has been a major problem for negotiations. Both the President's commission on the deficit and the recent "Gang of Six" proposal formed by three senators from each of the major parties includes additional tax revenue. When you have a cash flow problem, there are two options - reduce outflows and increase inflows. You can do one, the other, or both.


The second issue means that the volume of the money being discussed is very large, potentially up to $4 trillion over the next ten years. The driving force behind this requirement could be political - not wanting to have this issue come up again closer to the election. It could also be an efficiency argument - why have the same debate multiple times? Perhaps it's also tending on the perfectionist side - let's get the right answer rather than the quick one. In any case, I do believe that it is in the country's best interests to have a broader solution than a hack job, but the partial step is better than nothing at this stage.


In the case of a balance sheet as large as our nations, it's very difficult to choose only one of revenue or spending cuts without significantly changing the playing field. Rather, making smaller changes to both outflows and inflows helps keep the system more predictable and allows us time to see the impact of the changes. Several polls have shown that the majority of U.S. citizens favor a compromise that includes some of both. It really depends on the wording of the question, of course.[1] Still, the polls I've checked have shown that Democrats and independents are largely agree that tax increases should be part of the package. Republiicans are generally more in favor of cut only, but not by a large margin.[2]


How will this play out? In one scenario we could get a debt limit increase with only minimal cuts and some ongoing debate on the overall debt. In another, the negotiations that have been underway somehow reach a compromise in time for a vote before the deadline. It's also possible that the limit isn't raised in time and some payments stop going out. The investment world is getting more and more worried about this third option if quotes from economists and fund managers are any indication. Legislators are scrambling over the weekend to come up with something solid to avoid a massive negative market on Monday.


Can they do it? We've seen eleventh hour deals already this year and might be able to get one again. Still, you won't find me playing Russian roullette any time soon.[3]


[1]Poll divide

[2]CNN/ORC July 18-21 poll

[3] "The Tea Party is effectively playing Russian roulette with the bond market and they will, with certainty, lose," said Christian Cooper, head of U.S. dollar derivatives trading in New York at Jefferies & Co. Jefferies is one of 20 primary dealers that trade with the U.S. Federal Reserve.