Political Animal

TAXING SPAM….Marie Gryphon says:Every market

TAXING SPAM….Marie Gryphon says:

Every market liberal should be allowed one heterodoxy. Mine is telemarketers. I absolutely hate them. Telemarketers should be rounded up, denied their procedural due process rights, and shipped to Guantanamo Bay to room with Al-Qaeda.

OK, I’ll go along with that. But how about some market orthodoxy to deal with a very similar problem: spam.

Here’s my plan: in order to make up for George Bush’s $600 billion Martha Stewart Bailout Plan, how about if we implement a tax of 1 cent per email for all email sent to U.S. destinations? I figure this will either (a) wipe out the federal deficit and fund Social Security through the 23rd century or (b) put spammers out of business. I’m OK with either result.

I don’t imagine that this is even technically feasible (“technical” in the usual geek sense, not “technical” in the tax wonk sense), but it would be nice if it were.


HOW MUCH CAN THE CALIFORNIA BUDGET BE CUT?….A few weeks ago I wondered online about how much of the California budget was legally mandated. In other words, out of our current $98 billion budget, with its $24 billion shortfall, how much are we legally allowed to cut?

Ann Salisbury pointed me to an LA Times story yesterday that answered ? or tried to answer ? this question. In case you’re curious, here’s the bottom line:

  • “Technically mandatory” spending is about 90% of the budget. However, although legally mandated, much of this could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the legislature (which is the same margin required to pass the annual state budget).

  • “Sort of mandatory” spending, a hodgepodge of guesswork and common sense about what is reasonably discretionary and what isn’t, appears to be around 66% of the budget.

  • “Absolutely mandatory” spending is 26% of the budget. Examples include bond payments, stuff that’s either constitutionally or federally mandated, and court-ordered outlays.

So the real answer is “who knows?” I guess I should have expected this.

POSTSCRIPT: And for all of you “out of control spending” fans, here’s a quick summary of California’s historical budget. During the decade from 1982-1991 the per capita state budget increased about 2.6% per year (adjusted for inflation). During the decade 1992-2001 the per capita budget increased about 1.6% per year. So while it’s true that the California budget has grown a lot in the past five years, decade-to-decade comparisons through an entire economic cycle don’t make things look quite so bad. Too bad about that stock market crash, though.


CAT BLOGGING MEETS SCRABBLE? BLOGGING….Today was Marian’s birthday, so I got her one of those deluxe Scrabble? games with the built in lazy susan and the nice raised board that keeps all the tiles straightened out. I was sort of hoping it would be motorized and have a built-in Scrabble? computer, but no luck.

This is how we usually play, supervised by the cats to make sure we don’t cheat. I managed to eke out a victory in the first game, which I suppose was ungentlemanly of me, but the birthday gods took revenge in the second game and thrashed me to within an inch of my life.

And how old is Mrs. C? She’s not telling, I imagine. Of course, since the state of California makes its birth records available online, you could find out here if you only knew her maiden name. But you don’t, do you? So her secret is safe.

And yes, she did get a bit more than just some upgraded technology for our nightly Scrabble? festivities….


MORE ON RACIAL PROFILING….I got a few emails about my post on the LAPD racial profiling report that suggested I should take a look not just at the rate that police conducted searches after traffic stops, but at the result of the searches.

The LA Times story didn’t report this, but they did have a link to the raw report, so I decided to go the extra mile and take a look at the figures. Among drivers who were pulled over, here are the percentages who were searched along with the subsequent police action:








3165 ? 4.6%

6428 ? 9.4%

61344 ? 89.8%

1596 ? 2.3%

685 ? 1.0%


6986 ? 18.8%

5771 ? 15.6%

29782 ? 80.3%

1568 ? 4.2%

1357 ? 3.6%


14900 ? 18.9%

9201 ? 11.7%

66501 ? 84.5%

3667 ? 4.7%

1823 ? 2.3%

It turns out that in one sense, the critics are correct: these are hard numbers to draw conclusions from without more information. Still, while some of the figures look less troubling than they do at first glance, others seem to indicate rather strongly that racial profiling is indeed alive and well in Los Angeles. Here’s what I took away:

  • Police searched blacks at about four times the rate of whites, but also found contraband at about four times the rate, which makes the search rate seem defensible on non-racial grounds. On the other hand, they found contraband on Hispanics at only twice the rate of whites, which makes the 4x search rate look pretty dubious.

  • The arrest rates seem even more troubling, since this is a good indication of whether anything serious was going on. For both blacks and Hispanics the search rate is 4x the white search rate, but the arrest rate is only about double. This seems to indicate that the LAPD’s “suspiciousness radar” was tuned rather higher for blacks and Hispanics than for whites.

It’s true that data like this needs careful study, certainly something more careful than an amateur like me can give it. On the other hand, it does seem to indicate that the LAPD treats blacks and Hispanics with rather more suspicion than is justified, and race seems to be a part of it.

POSTSCRIPT I: One last comment: my snarky remark about affirmative action in yesterday’s post had a serious side to it: conservatives typically claim that, yes, there is probably still some racism in our society, but the best way for the government to respond is to just set a good example and be absolutely color blind. Eventually society will follow.

But if that’s true, then why isn’t it equally true for racial profiling? The liberal response might be, sure, maybe blacks commit more crimes than whites, but the best way to respond to this is to ignore it and have police act in a completely color blind manner. Eventually the problem will solve itself.

Which is it?

POSTSCRIPT II: There was one other problem analyzing the LAPD report: the numbers were screwy. For example, out of 3,165 whites searched, the box for “nothing found” was checked 3,208 times. This seems unlikely. What’s more, there was no overall number for searches in which something was found, so I had to add up the figures myself ? but it was unclear if that was the right thing to do. Bottom line: take everything here with a grain of salt.