Sunday, July 29, 2012

All America Is Divided into 3 Parts, as U.S. Presidential Election Enters the Last 100 Days

The 2012 U.S. Presidential election is in just 100 days. With the electoral college, that's really 51 separate elections in the 50 states plus District of Columbia. So how do those states stack up?

Barack Obama has the advantage, with 201 of the 270 electoral votes he needs all but locked up in 16 states plus DC. Republicans may hope to peel off Minnesota and New Mexico, but don't expect that to happen.
Obama states: ECV Obama McCain Difference 2008 Margin
DC 3 245,800 17,367 228,433 86.8%
Hawaii 4 325,871 120,566 205,305 46.0%
Vermont 3 219,262 98,974 120,288 37.8%
Rhode Island 4 296,571 165,391 131,180 28.4%
New York 29 4,804,701 2,752,728 2,051,973 27.2%
Massachusetts 11 1,904,097 1,108,854 795,243 26.4%
Maryland 10 1,629,467 959,862 669,605 25.9%
Illinois 20 3,419,348 2,031,179 1,388,169 25.5%
Delaware 3 255,459 152,374 103,085 25.3%
California 55 8,274,473 5,011,781 3,262,692 24.6%
Connecticut 7 997,772 629,428 368,344 22.6%
Maine 4 421,923 295,273 126,650 17.7%
Washington 12 1,750,848 1,229,216 521,632 17.5%
Oregon 7 1,037,291 738,475 298,816 16.8%
New Jersey 14 2,215,422 1,613,207 602,215 15.7%
New Mexico 5 472,422 346,832 125,590 15.3%
Minnesota 10 1,573,354 1,275,409 297,945 10.5%
Obama total 201 29,844,081 18,546,916 11,297,165 23.3%

Mitt Romney has 181 electoral votes wrapped up in 22 states. Obama won Indiana and North Dakota in 2008, and he could win them again, but polling shows they are back in the red state column for 2012.
Romney states: ECV Obama McCain Difference 2008 Margin
Wyoming 3 82,868 164,958 -82,090 -33.1%
Oklahoma 7 502,496 960,165 -457,669 -31.3%
Utah 6 327,670 596,030 -268,360 -29.1%
Idaho 4 236,440 403,012 -166,572 -26.0%
Alaska 3 123,594 193,841 -70,247 -22.1%
Alabama 9 813,479 1,266,546 -453,067 -21.8%
Arkansas 6 422,310 638,017 -215,707 -20.3%
Louisiana 8 782,989 1,148,275 -365,286 -18.9%
Kentucky 8 751,985 1,048,462 -296,477 -16.5%
Tennesee 11 1,087,437 1,479,178 -391,741 -15.3%
Kansas 6 514,765 699,655 -184,890 -15.2%
Nebraska 5 333,319 452,979 -119,660 -15.2%
West Virginia 5 303,857 397,466 -93,609 -13.3%
Mississippi 6 554,662 724,597 -169,935 -13.3%
Texas 38 3,528,633 4,479,328 -950,695 -11.9%
Arizona 11 1,034,707 1,230,111 -195,404 -8.6%
South Carolina 9 170,924 203,054 -32,130 -8.6%
South Dakota 3 170,924 203,054 -32,130 -8.6%
Georgia 16 1,844,123 2,048,759 -204,636 -5.3%
Montana 3 231,667 242,763 -11,096 -2.3%
North Dakota 3 2,142,651 2,128,474 14,177 0.3%
Indiana 11 1,374,039 1,345,648 28,391 1.0%
Romney total 181 17,335,539 22,054,372 -4,718,833 -12.0%

That leaves 156 electoral votes in 12 battleground states, where the election will be decided. Romney needs 89 of these electoral votes, Obama needs only 69. Obama won 11 of these 12 states in 2008. Romney has cut into Obama's 2008 victory margin over McCain in 2012 polling (RCP average) but still has a ways to go.
Battleground: ECV Obama McCain Difference 2008 Margin 2012 Polls
Wisconsin 10 1,677,211 1,262,393 414,818 14.1% 6.0%
Pennsylvania 20 3,276,363 2,655,885 620,478 10.5% 5.8%
Nevada 6 533,736 412,827 120,909 12.8% 5.3%
Ohio 18 2,940,044 2,677,820 262,224 4.7% 5.0%
Michigan 16 2,872,579 2,048,639 823,940 16.7% 4.2%
Colorado 9 1,288,576 1,073,589 214,987 9.1% 3.0%
New Hampshire 4 384,826 316,534 68,292 9.7% 3.0%
Iowa 6 828,940 682,379 146,561 9.7% 1.3%
Virginia 13 1,959,532 1,725,005 234,527 6.4% 1.2%
Florida 29 4,282,074 4,045,624 236,450 2.8% 0.6%
North Carolina 15 2,142,651 2,128,474 14,177 0.3% -0.4%
Missouri 10 1,441,911 1,445,814 -3,903 -0.1% -6.0%
Battleground total 156 23,628,443 20,474,983 3,153,460 7.2% -

The possibility of a tie cannot be entirely dismissed. Let's say Obama wins Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan, Colorado, Iowa and while Romney wins Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and Missouri. They would each finish with 269 electoral college votes. Ties go to the U.S. House of Representatives, voting by state delegation, which would give the election to Romney.

What about Romney winning the election but losing the popular vote? That is a distinct possibility. Even if Obama maintains his 11 million vote margin of victory in the Obama states, a swing of just 406,000 popular votes in the 6 battleground states above would give Romney an electoral college tie for the win in the U.S. House.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

NCAA's Emmert Commits 111 Counts of Abuse

It's tough to be a Penn State fan, alum, or student these days. It turns out your beloved head football coach has spent the last decade or so harboring a serial pedophile with the collusion of an assistant coach, the athletic director, a senior vice president, and your university's president.
"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people."
That was NCAA president Mark Emmert's sanctimonious pronouncement as he proceeded to strip Penn State's blameless student athletes of their 111 football wins over the years 1998 to 2011.

You can argue that Penn State had it coming. The other sanctions are also harsh, 5 years probation, a reduction of 20 football scholarships per season for 5 years, a 4-year ban from postseason games, a $60 million fine, and loss of Big Ten bowl revenue sharing during the 4-year ban.

The NCAA should have just closed the Penn State football program down until sufficient atonement had been made. After all, as private collegiate athletic organizations, the NCAA has every right to throw Penn State out of its association and the Big Ten every right to thrown Penn State out of its conference. But the power to do that has led to another abuse of power, less egregious than the child sex abuse Jerry Sandusky was convicted of to be sure, but nonetheless an abuse.

Vacating past wins should be limited to punishment for cheating on the field of play. There is simply no credible case Penn State got any on-field advantage here. Mark Emmert's decision therefore lacks integrity, an offense against all the student athletes who played on those winning Penn State teams.

Attempting to rewrite sport history has that old Stalinist purge feel, and as usual in Soviet practice the number of people being sent to the gulag is way overbroad. If the idea was to deprive the now-dead Joe Paterno of the 409 wins as the winningest coach in his 45 years in first division college football, that could have been done without hurting the students:
"Penn State wins under coach Joe Paterno are vacated for purposes of coaching records."
That's all it would take to reduce Joe Paterno's official win record to zero, while leaving the student players' win records intact. The 298 wins Emmert left Joe Paterno still put him at #7 on the first division coaches win list.

Of course, Emmert may have done Penn State a favor by turning Penn State from fellow perpetrator to victim. And Penn State is playing along by meekly accepting its punishment, just in time for the start of the fall college football season.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dark Night, Not Rising, at Harvard Square Theater

This was the Harvard Square Theater marquee a couple of weeks ago when it was announced that the 5 screen movie theater would be closing for good on Sunday July 8.

This was the marquee Sunday: 1925-2012 Thank You and Good-Bye.

It's sad to lose a movie theater has been here since talkies, but the old timers fondly remember the days with one screen and a balcony and for them the 5 screen megaplex was an abomination.

Hope that a different chain might have purchased the building with plans to continue to run it as a movie house have been quashed by rumors AMC sold the building for more money than even 5 profitable movie screens would be worth.

I gave last movie honors to Brave 3D at 9:50pm on Sunday. It was sadly ironic watching the trailers for movies that will open everywhere else but here.

I stayed through the very end of the credits and got the Disney logo:

Some final credits:

Update: The latest word is that the Harvard Square Theater building has been snapped up by Carpenter & Company, owner of the Charles Hotel in Cambridge and Liberty Hotel in Boston. Cambridge Seven Associate has been hired to to study possible future uses. Carpenter & Company President Richard Friedman muses:
"It's a gigantic blank wall on an important street. We hope to do something there that would be good urban planning."
That doesn't sound like they plan to keep it as a movie theater. The report is that AMC bought the building in 1986 for $9.3 million and sold it for $6.5 million. With 32,000 square feet, you could create thirty-two 1,000 sq. ft. condos or a retail space similar to the Garage or Galeria.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Once Around the Block with Zipcar

My '93 Jeep Cherokee just spent a week in the shop, and while I live in the city where I can walk to and from work, it did start to become inconvenient not to have a backup car. So I signed up for Zipcar.

It's pretty simple, you reserve the car online, and your Zipcard unlocks the door. The key is connected to the dash with a retractable cable, you start the car and go. You're supposed to gas the Zipcar up if it gets below a 1/4 tank, and they provide a fuel card for that, but I didn't get that far with it.

You can also find and reserve a car with your mobile smartphone, use your phone to sound the horn and unlock the doors, and send a text to extend your return time if no one has it reserved immediately after you.

Below are the Zipcars in my neighborhood. The first two are just two blocks away, the other dozen are within a half mile. There are also 14 Zipcars within a block of where I work. Zipcar also has vans to rent, but I would have to walk a little farther.

Kia Soul "Shur"
Nissan Sentra "Spelts"
Honda Insight Hybrid "Hadassah"
Mazda 3 "Mcgillis"
Audi A3 "Austria"
Nissan Sentra "Dionte"
Kia Soul "Sotto"
Honda Civic "Crysta"
Toyota Tacoma Pickup "Tzeremes"
Mazda 3 Hatch "Maragno"
Nissan Sentra "Skoczen"
Fiat 500 "Rachelle"
Toyota Prius "Pasquale"
Ford Escape "Elsa"

Some aspects of the Zipcar service are annoyingly cute, like giving all the cars names. I can learn to live with that.

I applied online ($85 to sign up) on Tuesday and got my Zipcard on Friday (Wednesday was July 4th, a holiday). The cost is $8 to $12 per hour depending on model, or $4 to $6 per hour at off-peak times in the middle of the night. Perfect for a 2 am grocery store run.

I am expecting my Jeep to give out in the next couple of years. Zipcar could move up from backup car to primary car.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Mitt Romney Gets Spindled by the WSJ and the USPS

Coming off a big fundraising month in June, Mitt Romney is getting spindled by some likely and unlikely people.

First, the Unites States Post Office. A Romney mailer arrives at my 01238 Cambridge address marked "DO NOT BEND PHOTO ENCLOSED". The postman, of course, gave it a little roll before putting it in my mailbox. That's to be expected if you live in these parts. And to be fair, the Romney mailer was to big to be inserted into the mailbox without being spindled.

Then, the Wall Street Journal. Under the heading "Romney's Tax Confusion" the WSJ editiorial board gave Romney this negative spin:
"Mr. Romney promised Republicans that he was the best man to make the case against President Obama, whom they desperately want to defeat. So far Mitt Romney is letting them down."
To be fair, they probably got their notices that News Corp is going to spin off its print assets, presumably into an inevitable oblivion.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

July 4th 2012 in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cannon fire on Cambridge Common, courtesy of the 1st Massachusetts Bicentennial Battery:

Tour guide "Margaret Fuller" from the Cambridge Historical Society tells of General George Washington's siege wall of hay and the cannons Colonel Henry Knox brought on sleds over 250 miles to Cambridge from the captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain to oust the British from Boston:

The rockets red glare from the railway bridge outside Union Square in Somerville. It rained after some thunder and lightning and we got a little wet:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Who is the Most Prominent Openly Gay Journalist on American Television?

CNN's Anderson Cooper has come out, although it was so widely known that he was gay that the only closet left was in his own mind. The New York Times put it in perspective:
"The announcement on Monday makes him the most prominent openly gay journalist on American television."
What about Rachel Maddow at MSNBC? I guess The New York Times thinks one or more of the following:

(1) MSNBC does not count as American television.

(2) Anderson Cooper is more prominent than Rachel Maddow.

(3) Rachel Maddow is not a journalist.

CNN, however, has the more international outlook than the more parochial MSNBC, so (1) can be eliminated. And Rachel Maddow has been getting better ratings at 9pm than Anderson has at 8pm, so (2) can be eliminated. That leaves (3).

Monday, July 2, 2012

I'm Shocked, Shocked to Find That Taxation Is Going on in Obamacare!

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss,
a sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
There are a couple of things worth considering in the dissent to NFIB v. Sebelius by Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito:
"[T]o say that the Individual Mandate merely imposes a tax is not to interpret the statute but to rewrite it. Judicial tax-writing is particularly troubling. Taxes have never been popular, see, e.g., Stamp Act of 1765, and in part for that reason, the Constitution requires tax increases to originate in the House of Representatives. See Art. I, §7, cl. 1. That is to say, they must originate in the legislative body most accountable to the people, where legislators must weigh the need for the tax against the terrible price they might pay at their next election, which is never more than two years off."
Here is the individual mandate as written in section 5000A of the Internal Revenue Code (bolding added):
(a) Requirement To Maintain Minimum Essential Coverage.

An applicable individual shall for each month beginning after 2013 ensure that the individual, and any dependent of the individual who is an applicable individual, is covered under minimum essential coverage for such month.

(b) Shared Responsibility Payment.

(1) In general. If a taxpayer who is an applicable individual, or an applicable individual for whom the taxpayer is liable under paragraph (3), fails to meet the requirement of subsection (a) for 1 or more months, then, except as provided in subsection (e), there is hereby imposed on the taxpayer a penalty with respect to such failures in the amount determined under subsection (c).

(2) Inclusion with return. Any penalty imposed by this section with respect to any month shall be included with a taxpayer's return under chapter 1 for the taxable year which includes such month.
The Form 1040 federal income tax return is the "taxpayer's return under chapter 1" and the amount of the tax, subject to various complicated income and affordability limits, will be $695 a year for average middle class taxpayers who don't have health insurance meeting the minimum essential coverage requirements.

Should the constitutionality of that provision hang on whether the word "penalty" is used instead of "tax". The amount of the "shared responsibility payment" (there's a euphemism for tax if I've ever heard one!) would be the same either way. You can call the shared responsibility payment whatever you want, but you can't convince me that it is not a tax.

I don't think that any judicial rewriting is necessary to find that this an exercise of the taxing power. It would be bad precedent to allow Congress to play around with words rather than look at the substance of what they are doing.

For example, if the current tax were increased from $695 to $100,000, that would be punitive and not merely a tax. The $695 amount is certainly designed to influence your behavior, but it is still a free choice compared to the expense of insurance. A $100,000 tax or penalty would not give you a realistic choice.

Admittedly, there is a wrinkle in what I just wrote. If in 2016 you have income of $4,000,000 or over but don't have health insurance, your tax is 2.5% which works out to $100,000 or more. That makes buying health insurance a no-brainer for people earning over a certain amount. The rest of us taxpayers should hope some of them aren't smart enough to figure that out.

Further, does an unconstitutional law become constitutional by a simple amendment changing the word "penalty" to "tax"? Congress could come back and pass such an amendment to Section 5000A in one year, five years, or twenty years. That would be a flimsy Constitutional ruling.

Nonetheless, there is more to the dissent than a constitutional law question. The Tea Party has officially arrived in the reference to the Stamp Act of 1765. That's the first of the taxes imposed on the American colonists that led to the tea being dumped into Boston Harbor and the American Revolution. The four Republican Justices (dare we now call them the Tea Party Justices?) have called out the Tea Party for the November election.

The reaction last week was swift. The Wall Street Journal laid out the tax numbers ("if it quacks like a duck"):

Megyn Kelly and Laura Ingraham accused Democrats of committing fraud by not representing Obamacare as a tax:

Sarah Palin sounded vindicated on the IPAB death panels and health care rationing:

Sarah Palin called Nancy Pelosi the perfect dingbat spokesperson for the agenda of the far left:

Michele Bachmann introduced legislation to repeal Obamacare. On the taxing power decision she said, "It was like a knife was stuck in and twisted.":

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan declared Obamacare will blow a hole through the deficit:

The Republican National Committee dug up ABC's George Stephanopoulos to beat the tax drum:

Candidate Mitt Romney proclaimed, "What the Court did not do in its last day in session I will do on my first day if elected President of the United States, that is, I will act to repeal Obamacare.":

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama admitted, "Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn't do this because it was good politics.":

Obamacare was certainly bad politics for the Democrats in the 2010 mid-term elections, although one could make the argument that after seeing Nancy Pelosi's incompetence during the passage of Obamacare, the American people decided she wasn't fit to help oversee its implementation. One could also make the argument that the American people wanted a bipartisan deal, and not getting that in the passage now want bipartisan implementation.
It's still the same old story
A fight for love and glory
A case of do or die
The world will always welcome lovers
As time goes by
That phrase "I will act to repeal Obamacare" in Mitt Romney's statement may be a roundabout way of ordering, "Round up the usual suspects." "Hey, I acted to repeal but I just couldn't quite muster the votes" is his out.

Update: Two things have been pointed out to me:

First, the penalty tax for a person with $4 million in income is limited to the lesser of $100,000 (2.5% of income) or the national average premium for qualified health plans which have a bronze level of coverage (presumably less than $100,000).

Second, Section 5000(g) contains a rather curious provision on assessment and collection:
(1) In general.— The penalty provided by this section shall be paid upon notice and demand by the Secretary, and except as provided in paragraph (2), shall be assessed and collected in the same manner as an assessable penalty under subchapter B of chapter 68.

(2) Special rules.— Notwithstanding any other provision of law—

(A) Waiver of criminal penalties.— In the case of any failure by a taxpayer to timely pay any penalty imposed by this section, such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such failure.

(B) Limitations on liens and levies.— The Secretary shall not—

(i) file notice of lien with respect to any property of a taxpayer by reason of any failure to pay the penalty imposed by this section, or

(ii) levy on any such property with respect to such failure.
So how exactly will this penalty tax be collected after it is assessed, if the IRS can't file liens or make levies? Maybe the individual mandate is just a suggestion and not a tax or a penalty after all.