June 2011 Archives

County Democratic official's Twitter tirade was tame compared to earlier statements

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Ventura County Democratic Chairman Richard Carter sort of distanced himself from a racially tinged rant tweeted by his vice chairman Wednesday. However, Carter apparently wasn't so much offended by Atkins' sentiment that racism runs rampant through the Republican Party, he just didn't like the choice of words he used.

"The only rebuke I have is to say that his comments do not represent the views of the Ventura County Democratic Party," Carter said. "They were posted on an individual's Twitter account."

Just like Anthony Weiner. Atkins lists his position with his party on his Twitter masthead, and sent the offensive comments from a state-sponsored political event. 

Carter said Atkins won't face any censure, and suggested that other people corroborated Atkins' belief that Republicans used racial "code words" during a redistricting commission hearing. 

Unfortunately for Carter, Twitter limits posts to 140 characters. If Atkins can do this much damage to his party in tiny posts, what can he do on the Daily Kos website where there is no limitation? 

An anti-conservative tirade was posted earlier this year on Daily Kos entitled, "Shooting Black People for Sport" (emphasis added). It stated:

There's nothing more complicated about hardcore conservatives than this.  They believe wholeheartedly in their own magnificence and self-reliance.  They believe that minorities are fundamentally subhuman.  They want all aid to minority communities eliminated.  And then they would like nothing better than to use minorities for target practice when social unrest develops.

The author of the screed is identified as David Atkins. He apparently came across some offensive anonymous comments at the end of a conservative blog and then immediately tried to hang it around the necks of conservatives as a whole, particularly the Tea Party. He continued in the same vein as his recent remarks about opponents to redistricting (again, emphasis added):

There is no coming to terms with these people, or negotiating with them.  In the end, we can share a country and political system with them, but we cannot share a bipartisan future with them.  The only way forward is to defeat and expose them for what they are: racist, bloodthirsty lunatics with a profoundly warped sense of self-importance.

Chairman Carter distanced himself over the "KKK" and racism accusations. What does he do about the accusation that large swaths of American people are "bloodthirsty" and are itching for a chance to shoot minorities in the street?

Should the county Democratic Party go on an Atkins diet?

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Ventura County Democratic Chairman Richard Carter half-heartedly distanced himself Wednesday from comments made by his vice-chairman, after the Ventura County Star followed up on an article I wrote criticizing David Atkins for offensive statements he posted on his Twitter account. From Timm Herdt's article:

Comments posted by a Ventura County Democratic Party official on his Twitter account last week in which he wrote that some east county Republicans who testified at a hearing in Oxnard should "just put your white hoods on already" do not represent the views of the county party, Chairman Richard Carter said Wednesday.

Atkins also tweeted that the "racist" Republicans were "afraid of brown people" and were just trying to protect their "lily-white" communities from being separated under the state's redistricting proposal.

Not surprisingly, the statements offended members of the Republican and Tea Parties.

While Carter said he believes Atkins now regrets those comments, Atkins' statements since the story broke seem to indicate otherwise.

In Herdt's article, Atkins said he is "proud of calling out the obvious racism that was on display" at the hearing, although he acknowledged he "might" have used different language in retrospect. He went on to describe his actions as courageous and said even commenters that write on the Star's website show a "virulent underbelly of right-wing racism in Ventura County, and the Oxnard hearing was no exception."

Carter said he did not condone the language Atkins used.

Had a Republican officer said something similar, we can only imagine what Atkins and Carter would have done. Osborn said he wouldn't tolerate it from a member of his executive board and suggested that Atkins step down.

Certainly fairness calls for that--again, if Osborn said something similar Democrats would call for his head. Justice also calls for it--the vitriol Atkins publishes really is beyond the pale and shouldn't be tolerated by a political party.

But Republicans might be secretly hoping that a politically wounded Atkins keeps his job near the top of the county Democratic food chain.  Someone that is prone to posting hateful emotional outbursts for the world to see not only shows Ventura County voters what the modern Democratic Party is willing to tolerate, he provides a recurring handle for the GOP to use over and over again.  Earlier this year, Atkins wrote that conservatives want "to use minorities for target practice."

Of course, Carter might neuter Atkins and put him on a short leash, but given Atkins' history he won't stay housebroken long.

In the final analysis, if he gets booted out of his position, local Republicans would be pleased that justice was served. If he stays, they can take heart he only does so at the expense of the daily embarrassment to his party.

"Amazon" bill takes effect Friday

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California's sales tax rate is set to drop by one percentage point Friday, but that's little consolation to online retailers. Their tax rate is going from zero to at least 7.25 percent thanks to a quartet of bills known as "the Amazon bills."

That's because companies like Amazon aren't required to collect sales tax in this state if they don't have a physical presence here.

There's some debate as to what constitutes a physical presence. While Amazon may be headquartered in another state, any distribution centers located in California might expose its customers' transaction to sales tax. Amazon has no distribution centers here (that it directly owns, anyways), but they do partner with thousands of small businesses who sell their products through Amazon's store.

Enter the Amazon bills. Desperate for cash, California saw a way to tax Amazon's sales by saying that because some of Amazon's small partners are in California, Amazon has established a presence in the state and all its sales are taxable. The budget assumes that the Amazon bill will raise several hundred million dollars.

It probably won't.  Amazon responded to the passage of the bill by threatening to sever its relationship with the affiliates (as it has done in other states) before it takes effect. Time for that is running out. It's also said the bill is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.

That probably doesn't matter to politicians in Sacramento, because they got to paper over a $300+ million budget hole regardless if the money is ever collected or not.

Will Amazon follow through on its threat to fire its affiliates? Will they challenge the state in court? We'll probably know very soon.

Despite Efforts, Minimum Wage is Always Zero

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One of the great mistakes made by public officials is that they think economic forces are more or less fixed and unchanging.

They typically believe an x percent increase in a tax rate will result in a corresponding x percent increase in revenue, not realizing that tax increases inspire changes in behavior from those that are meant to pay higher taxes. For example, the new bill that will expose Amazon to California sales tax due to the presence of its small affiliates in the state is expected by its authors to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. But that money will never make it to Sacramento coffers if Amazon follows through on its threat to terminate its relationship with said affiliates.

That sort of behavior cannot be predicted in whatever estimates the "experts" cooked up.

Similarly, public officials are also constantly worried about monopolies (unless the monopoly is one of their campaign contributors). However, since the only constant in life is change, "monopolies" tend to disappear on their own over time, which means they weren't really monopolies to begin with. Smith Corona  had a monopoly on typewriters. Who cares if a firm had a monopoly on buggy whips? Microsoft supposedly had a monopoly as well, and look where they are.

Those sorts of changes don't show up in the reports or projections that public policymakers rely on.

The Ventura County Supervisors (save Foy) are guilty of the same one-dimensional mindset. They voted 3-1 to increase the minimum wage paid to government workers to $10 an hour (plus benefits).

On paper, they gave a raise to county workers making that minimum wage. However, because economic forces that don't show up in projections are always at play, the increase in minimum wage will lead to unemployment.

If a worker's labor is only worth $9/hour, they may find themselves employable if the minimum wage is $9/hour. If it's raised to $10/hour--they have a problem, since businesses tend not to hire people whose labor isn't worth what they are paying.

This is especially harmful to teenagers and the uneducated--private employers won't eagerly hire unskilled high school students if the state is forcing them to pay wages that are more appropriate for someone who is older and more skilled.

The county's minimum wage increase only affects public employees, but the same market forces are at play, even though governments are much more likely to pay employees more than their labor is worth. In the county's case, it will spend $145,000 on employees making minimum wage. The extra expense will have to come out of somewhere else. Perhaps three fewer minimum wage workers will be hired next year.

A behind-the-scenes tour of For The Troops

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The office has the look of a successful startup company--a dozen or so workers exuberantly assemble packages on a makeshift assembly line, surrounded by boxes and by parts that line the perimeter of the room, making it feel as if the walls are simultaneously closing in on them yet at the same time ready to burst at the seams into the suite next door. Demand is such that if enough product isn't shipped out the door today, the workers will have to tunnel their way out of the building.

Every corner of the room is filled to the brim but oddly there is no sense of chaos or claustrophobia, only organization and purpose, which would be unusual for a company that features a 100% volunteer workforce. Except this is not really a company. No products are being sold despite the frantic pace at which they are assembled and shipped.

This is For The Troops, a nonprofit organization in Simi Valley that sends care packages to soldiers overseas.

The boxes that line the perimeter of the room are filled with gum, beef jerky, baby wipes, playing cards, and other simple items that mean little to us here but have the power to turn a homesick soldier's bad day into a good one.

Individuals and companies alike donate these items to For The Troops--a company will send over boxes full of thermoses that will end up on FTT's efficient assembly line. No space is wasted--the thermoses are filled with other items like socks, and candy is used instead of Styrofoam packing peanuts.

Other items are hand made. Volunteers collect various strips of smooth fabric and sew "neck coolers," which contain beads that can soak up water and can be worn around the neck to cool down a solider standing in 140 degree Iraqi heat while carrying 80 pounds of "battle rattle."

The volunteers, many of who served in the military, have family in the material, or both, realize that small, daily comforts aren't small at all. Baby wipes are in huge demand, since dust and dirt get everywhere--if a care package doesn't have baby wipes, it doesn't leave the building. Beef jerky is treated like a delicacy since its saltiness is craved by sweating soldiers whose bodies are depleted of that mineral.

The volunteers are also fully aware the soldiers are missing other things they need--things that aren't as tangible.

One woman assembles small packages of stationery, complete with an envelope and a pen. The blank pieces of paper invite the soldiers to write to someone they love. Another woman collects greeting cards of all types. In the weeks before Father's Day, FTT included cards for that holiday in their packages so soldiers could have something to send to their dads. She collects birthday cards for varying ages so a new father thousands of miles away can send his son or his daughter a card for their first, second, or third birthdays, no doubt inducing extra smiles for both sender and recipient as they are brought closer together despite their great distance.

The personal touch is important--each care package (called "we care packages", to convey gratitude to members of the military) is hand-signed by the person who assembled it. Letters from children are at the top of soldiers' wish lists, and they're in short supply during the summer. One soldier responded to a letter with a thank you from his unit, a photo of all of them standing around some military equipment, and a patch from a uniform.

In FTT's "library", a volunteer sifts through stacks of donated books for ones that are more likely to be enjoyed by a young soldier. Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton paperbacks make the cut, others that are less likely to generate interest are traded to local bookstores and the library for something more appropriate. Nothing is wasted.

Six years and 43,000 boxes later, FTT's founder Paula Cornell isn't slowing down. I asked her what FTT's biggest need is.

"Postage money, postage money, and postage money," she said.

FTT has already spent $115,000 in postage halfway through 2011, coming close to its 2010 total of $140,000. While there are many corporate sponsors eager to help out (amazingly, some refuse to) FTT pushes out 1,800 We Care packages a month and thus has a ravenous need for postage.

FTT goes out in the community to fundraise. For example, on Thursday, July 7th at the Junkyard Café, 15 percent of the bill will go to the charity.

The money is spent wisely--while there are other, more professional organizations that provide supplies to the troops, FTT does not have any paid staff. The three suites it occupies are donated by the building's owner, who also picks up most of the electricity bill.

Creativity, resourcefulness, frugality, and devotion characterize the organization. Not only is it a good group of people doing a good thing, it is living proof of the crucial role that charitable organizations play in society, and how, with no revenue other than what people are willing to give, one group can run circles around your average government program and feature an efficient model that even private companies would aspire to achieve.

Democratic Party Official Calls Opponents at Redistricting Forum Lily-White "Racists" in "White Hoods"

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Anyone in Ventura County who questions the Redistricting Commission's proposed plan is a racist and a Ku Klux Klan member, according to a top Ventura County Democratic Party official.

Responding to citizen testimony at the commission's public forum Wednesday night in Oxnard, Democratic Party Vice Chairman David Atkins let loose a racially tinged tirade on his Twitter account, alienating approximately half the population of the county:

It's so clear that most of these old white people from East Ventura are terribly afraid of brown people in Oxnard/LA. #CAredistricting

Amazing. You'd think that people, especially party officials, would have more discretion on Twitter in the post- Weinergate era. Not Atkins, who then used an arguable racial epithet against Caucasians:

Elton #Gallegly really has his people in force tonight to save his lily-white district. Sorry Folks! #CAredistricting

But it's Republicans who are racist, Atkins said, adding:

So tired of #GOP using racial codewords "culture" "lifestyle" "political interest". Just put your white hoods on already. #CAredistricting

Does "lily-white" county as a racial codeword?  

Atkins continued to let the vitriol fly, posting that he was with the hearing with "a bunch of white-flight racists from Simi."

Citizens respectfully voicing their opinions to the Redistricting Commission are not racists, Mr. Atkins--people who use racial epithets in hate-filled rants, on the other hand, are.

The irony gets better; writing about the forum on Calitics, Atkins stated, "the pros and cons of the  process were painfully evident--as was the (lack of) character of what passes for the Republican party in much of Southern California."

In psychology they call that projection--the only lack of character that was exhibited at the forum came from a fuming leader of the Democratic Party.

By comparing Republicans to a hate group that lynches minorities, by using racist language, and by smearing half the county with vitriol, Atkins' actions crossed the line of civility in a major way. Why he is allowed to serve as a Democratic official is a mystery, and a stain on his party.

Who knows, maybe the rest of the county party leadership agrees with him. I'd be interested to hear their reaction to his tirade.

Education Study Tells a Tale of Two Ethnicities

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It's impossible to talk about specific challenges facing ethnic groups without a small group of angry people shouting "Racist," like modern-day inquisitors who shrieked "Heretic!" to drown out the arguments of unfortunate people accused of blasphemy in 15th century Spain. Ironically, by desperately trying to prevent the sensitive subject from being publicly discussed, the inquisitors also prohibit any improvements in the lives of the people who are affected by the problem. As a courtesy, here is your opportunity to get the shouts out of your system.

 OK, ready to begin solving the problem?

First, let's state the issue.

Tuesday's Los Angeles Times reported on a College Board Advocacy & Policy Center study regarding education, crime, and employment statistics, broken down by ethnic group.

It found, in part:

·         70% of Asian men had an associate's degree or higher, compared to 28% of black men

·         Young black men were 3 times more likely to be incarcerated than young Asian men

The question, that hopefully will lead us to a solution, is why is there a disparity between two minority groups in these areas? If we compared white people versus black people, the obvious response would be that white people are predominantly in the ruling power structure. But that answer frays when we introduce Asians to the equation, who are no better represented in institutionalized systems than blacks.

In this comparison, we immediately have to address the history of slavery in America. Asians were not enslaved, subject to Jim Crow laws, or lynched, like blacks were.

Their experience was more similar to blacks than most people know. The first Chinese immigrants were singled out for special taxes and sometimes physically attacked and murdered. They were prohibited from testifying against whites in court. Their wages were suppressed--they only made 60% of what European immigrants made, even though they performed some of the hardest work, such as building the transcontinental railroad. They were subjected to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited them from becoming citizens.

And yes, they too were lynched.

Let's not forget that Asians were rounded up by the FDR administration and thrown into internment camps in World War II.

The institutional racism experienced by blacks and Asians is also similar in that it's largely evaporated in the last four decades. It's taboo to even mention race--an off-color joke or an insensitive remark is all it takes to remove a powerful public official from office, if he offends the wrong group. The path is clear for anyone from any background to achieve success in this country regardless of their racial background, a change in attitude that is personified by President Barack Obama (while we still wait for the first Asian president).

We must now return to the problem, because the explanation that "blacks had it tough" doesn't hold muster now that we've demonstrated that Asians also had it tough.

So what's the correct answer?

It has nothing to do with genetics, or color, or oppression. In fact, quite the opposite of oppression--it has to do with whichever group the government is trying to "help" most. We could pick any ethnic group and have the government try to help it, and within one generation the group will be hugely and negatively impacted.

It seems paradoxical, but consider this.

Take a person who is perfectly capable of walking and running. Now, stick him in a wheelchair and tell him he really needs it, the world is unfair, he can't compete out there on his own. Wheel him around wherever he goes. Do everything for him. Don't let him walk or run anymore. Offer to wheel him wherever he wants to go.

After some years, his perfectly good muscles will atrophy and he'll be taught to be reliant on the wheelchair.

Now, congratulate yourself--you've just done what the government did to its preferred minority groups over the last several decades, thanks to the "soft bigotry of low expectations," that George W. Bush identified.

To prove my point, the minority groups that the government did not interfere with are spectacular examples of success. The ones that the government decided to "help" are suffering with 70% out-of-wedlock birth rates--after all, who needs a head of household when Uncle Sam will mail you a check. That means single parents and that means low income households, both of which are correlated to higher crime rates.

I believe that people of any race are created equal. The left seems to think that some groups are unable to compete because of their race, and when the government destroys incentives to form a healthy family structure, the left creates the problematic conditions they say they are trying to solve. 

The healthy man, unnecessarily confined to a wheelchair for years, ultimately becomes dependent on it. If the left would just let all groups stand on their own two feet, we'd see an explosion in income, education, and societal equality among all groups.

Employer-Based Healthcare Hurts Older Workers

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Employer-based healthcare is the norm for employees of private companies. A company often agrees to pay a portion of medical premiums for its employees and their dependents, and the employees enjoy the benefits (or drawbacks) of a participating in a group plan where health-related costs are spread around.

A workers' health, therefore, directly impacts a company's bottom line. Premiums are calculated by the age group and family status of an employee, as well as an overall rate adjustment factor that may be higher or lower depending on the costs the group imposes on the medical insurance company.

A hypothetical company with 100 young , healthy employees will realize a competitive advantage over a company full of older workers who incur more healthcare costs, since they will save the company money which may be redirected into more personnel, better facilities, or the output of a higher quality product.

Companies, then, are incentivized to increase the ratio of young, healthy employees versus aging employees. In previous eras, businesses might be adversely impacted by losing the experience of the older workers. However, in the Information Age, many older workers have let themselves fall behind the times and are unfamiliar with computer or software tools that are so essential in today's office environment, limiting their usefulness.

Coupled with skyrocketing healthcare costs and high employee turnover due to a poor economy, it then becomes apparent that employers will find it easier to let go older employees and more difficult to hire them.

The Star touched on this matter in Monday's article entitled, "Unemployed older workers have a tougher time finding work."

While the article mentioned that technological advances in the workplace may have passed "mature" workers by, and that health risks might frighten employers from hiring silver-haired applicants, it was related more in the vein of injured older workers being unable to physically perform tasks--not the fact that older workers raise the healthcare costs for the employer, which is the focus of this article.

This is one of the unintended consequences of employer-based healthcare. If an employee were responsible for his own healthcare--and unable to socialize the cost among the members of a group plan, among the subscribers to an insurance company, or among fellow citizens (as is the case in government-sponsored healthcare)--not only would costs drop dramatically, but perverse incentives to maintain an unwritten "old people need not apply" policy would be removed.

Star Says Tax Cuts Costs Trillions

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You don't have to be an economist to grasp the fundamental concepts of economics, but even the most rudimentary concepts escape many journalists in the mainstream media.

On Thursday, the Ventura County Star editorialized that the 2001 Bush tax cuts "tidily disposed of that year's modest $128 billion budget surplus, ending four straight years of surpluses and setting the country on a downward deficit spiral."

Setting aside the astonishing omission that of the economic impact of the 9/11 attacks that culminated in two expensive wars, the editorial board that produced this piece missed a basic concept in economics.

The editorial assumes that the economy is a zero-sum game in which economic activity is fixed and it's impossible for tax cuts to stimulate growth. A hypothetical across-the-board 10 percent decrease in taxes would result in 10 percent less revenue, according to the logic of the author of the editorial, which claims that allowing tax cuts to expire for those earning $200,000 annually would "set the Treasury back $1.7 trillion..."

One only needs to visit the home page of the Star's website to see the folly of its argument. There, the Star advertises daily deals where local businesses offer a discount for their products or services. If the Star applied the logic it uses for our economy to these businesses, they'd editorialize that a 50 percent discount off of a $25 meal at a nearby restaurant would "cost" the restaurant $12.50. In reality, the restaurant might see an increase in its normal revenue as a result of the coupon due to the likely additional number of patrons the discount attracted that wouldn't have otherwise frequented the restaurant.

In short, the discount stimulated growth; even though each patron paid less than they normally would--because the economy is not a zero-sum game, the cost of the discount is offset by the gain of revenue from additional patrons. The Star focused on the cost and didn't even consider that it could be offset by a gain.

Similarly, according to the laws of economics, a decrease in the high rate of taxes on the job-producers (the "rich") in this country might very well stimulate more economic activity, leading to increased revenue despite the "cost" of the tax cut.

Reporters Go After Breitbart Instead of Grilling Weiner

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Minutes before Rep. Anthony Weiner was scheduled to appear at a press conference to admit he sent lewd photos of himself to young women, reporters found themselves face with conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.


Breitbart, whose website BigGovernment.com broke the Weinergate story, was prompted by reporters to take the podium after arriving to see Weiner's press conference.


Weiner's acolytes previously accused Breitbart of hacking into the congressman's Twitter account, but reporters at the press conference weren't about to vindicate him.


Instead, they used the opportunity to grill him about the ACORN scandal, questioned him about James O'Keefe's editing practices, and implied he was out for revenge.


"Give me one example of a provable lie," Breitbart challenged the reporters, after lamenting that they've accused him of lying in the past. "One. One. Journalists? One. Put your reputation on the line here. One provable lie."


Instead of providing an example, reporters continued to hammer him.

Expert Says the Fed Knows US is on "Verge of Great, Great Depression"

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Economic slowdown fears thrashed Wall StreetWednesday, a day that saw one market strategist telling  CNBC that we're headed toward a greater calamity than the Great Depression.

Perhaps Peter Yastrow of Yastrow and Origer was just having a bad day, considering the Dow plunged 280 points due to a realization that the economic "recovery" might be illusory.  Or maybe, he and others are finally voicing fears shared by "fringe" market observers.

"Interest rates are amazingly low and that, thanks to Ben Bernanke, is driving everything," Yastrow told CNBC. "We're on the verge of a great, great depression. The [Federal Reserve] knows it."

Yastrow also said there is confusion about where to invest money, but cautioned bears against selling stocks due to their relatively high dividend yields. [continue reading]

This blog attempts to add perspective and context to local and national politics, through a variety of disciplines, such as history, economics, and philosophy--all tempered with common sense. About the author

Eric Ingemunson's commentary has been featured on Hannity, CNN, NBC, Inside Edition, and KFI's The John and Ken Show. Eric was born and raised in Ventura County and currently resides in Moorpark. He earned a master's degree in Public Policy and Administration from California Lutheran University. As a conservative, Eric supports smaller government, less taxation, more individual freedom, the rule of law, and a strict adherence to the Constitution.
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