The Jury Talks Back

11/25/2008

An error in California’s election regulations

Filed under: California Politics — aphrael @ 3:57 pm

To my great surprise, California’s Election Code does not require an automatic recount in the case of close elections; it requires a recount of 1% of the precincts, and nothing more. The Secretary of State has remedied that with a series of emergency regulations (which were upheld by the state Supreme Court in some cases this summer). But there is still a problem.

The plan, described in detail here, says that when an election contest is within “the margin of victory”, there shall be a hand recount of 10% of the precincts; and, if that recount causes a shift in votes equal to or greater than 1/10 of the margin of victory, it is to be followed by an escalating recount encompassing more and more precincts until either everything has been counted or the total variance is back under 1/10 of the margin of victory.

The problem lies with the definition of ‘margin of victory’ used by the Secretary of State’s regulations:

(a) After each election, the elections official shall determine the margin of victory in each contest based upon the semifinal official canvas results, as defined in Elections Code section 353.5

(1) For single-winner elections, the margin of victory is the difference between the percentage of votes won by the candidate with the number of votes needed to win the seat and the percentage of votes won by the candidate with the next lowest number of votes.
(2) For multi-winner elections, the margin of victory is the difference between the percentaage of votes needed to win a seat and the percentage of votes won by the candidate with the next lowest number of votes ….
(3) For ballot measure contests, including recall contests, the margin of victory is the difference between the percentages of votes for and against the ballot measure.
(b) For any contest in which the margin of victory is less than one half of one percent (.5%), the elections official shall conduct a manual tally …

This looks perfectly reasonable and, had I read it before the election, I would probably have said that it was the correct procedure. But it turns out that it misses something important: some ballot measures require a supermajority to pass. For such measures, the correct definition of ‘margin of victory’ is not the difference between the votes cast for and the votes cast against; it is the difference between the votes cast for and the minimum number of votes sufficient to provide the required supermajority.

That distinction would have mattered in this election; Santa Clara County Measure B, the “bring BART to San Jose” tax measure, has passed with 66.78% of the vote. But it needed 66.67% of the vote to pass. The opponents of the measure were not entitled to an automatic recount under the Secretary of State’s regulations … but it seems fairly clear that had the regulations been drafted correctly, they would have been.

I am writing a letter of complaint to Secretary of State Bowen. I don’t think this was deliberate; it looks to me like an honest oversight. But it should be rectified before the next election.

Why is Marriage Important?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fritz @ 10:23 am

Is this argument compelling?

Consider that a man is a species-being, and the species to which he belongs — the species that defines his nature — is both rational and social. Man cannot live at all — much less live well — except by the mutual protection and mutual support of other human beings. Morality refers to those rules that mankind has learned, both from reason and experience, are necessary for surviving and prospering. The inclination of many men — what we might call the inclination of their lower nature — to take their sex where they find it and ignore the consequences, must be subordinated to their higher nature, which includes the interest of society (and the interest of nature in the species). For in no other species are the young so helplessly dependent for so long. Hence the importance, even for survival, of the laws both moral and civil governing the institution of marriage and of the family. We know that the relaxation of these laws leads to disorder, disease, and death, no less surely in the most advanced cultures than in the most primitive. But the good of the family is not merely self-preservation and survival, but the higher good — the happiness — of all its members, including those whose original horizon may not have extended beyond immediate gratification… (more…)

Fact Check on Mortgages

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin M @ 10:08 am

It seems that mortgages aren’t the issue.  Really.  At least not by themselves.  There are not enough owner-occupied home mortgages in the US to cause all this grief, and certainly not enough non-traditional mortgages, even if they all became worthless

The US Census Bureau’s 2005 American Housing Survey has a fine breakdown of US home mortgages.  A few numbers (All data US owner-occupied, 2005, in thousands of units.  Numbers may not add due to unreported info):

  • Total number of owner-occupied dwellings, US:  74,931
  • Dwellings owned free and clear:  24,776
  • 1st mortgages:  44,652
  • Home-equity lump-sum loans:  4,485
  • Home-equity Lines of credit: 10,044
  • Purchase-money 1st mortgages:  27,592
  • Fixed rate, self-amortizing mortgages:  37,392
  • Adjustable rate/term/payment mortgages: 3,118
  • Loans with private mortgage insurance (PMI):  6,189
  • Median line of credit limit:  $50,340
  • Median line of credit balance:  $23,701
  • 1st mortgages less than 5 years old: 28,319
  • 1st mortgages 30-year term:  29,765
  • Current interest rate less than 6%:  22,716
  • Current interest rate 6 to 7.9%:  18,891
  • Mortgages with balances above $300,000:  3,029
  • Mortgages refinanced with cash out:  2,375
  • Mortgages with loan-to-value above 90%:  2,935
  • Median loan balance:  $92,607
  • Median refinance cash out: $28,084
  • Median loan-to-value:  55.1%

From this we also get the total sum of all US 1st mortgages is $4.13 trillion, with maybe another $400 billion in seconds, lines of credit and home-equity loans (data a bit muddled).

So what does this all mean?

Near as I can tell, assuming that the housing stock isn’t completely Hollywood sets, there is nothing at all wrong with this picture.  It looks quite healthy and normal, with no obvious red flags.  I had been looking for things like massive lines of credit, or high numbers of unconventional loans, etc.  Don’t see them here.  Unless this changed radically between 2005-2008, mortgages don’t begin to account for the financial crisis we are in.

If every last mortgage in the USA was a total fraud and worth zero dollars, the most anyone would be out (as of 2005) would be about $4.5 trillion.  Yet the feds are already in for seven and a half trillion dollars, with more to come.  Lately they have said that buying up the mortgage paper won’t help and they need to shore up the banks directly.  Small wonder since the mortgage data seems, um, safe as houses.

No, it seems the problem lies more in what happened when Fannie/Freddie and the banks created mortgage-backed securities, turned them into a alternate currency, and then wrapped them in a poorly-engineered system of derivatives and other hedges.  The system broke with the perturbations exceeded the permissible range and then positive feedback took over and pegged everything to zero.  But that’s just an engineer’s guess.

But it does not seem like it was the mortgages themselves.

BBC hasn’t heard of UN abuse of women?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amphipolis @ 9:29 am

Read this article, but don’t expect any mention of rampant UN peacekeeper abuse around the world. It even quotes the UN saying this (yes, they seem to quote the UN directly – not the Secretary General or even a UN official):

The UN says at least one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

It has called on leaders and people around the world to address what it said was a “global pandemic” of abuse.

Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are at greater risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, traffic accidents, war and malaria, says the UN.

It says violence against women has been reported in every international or non-international warzone and that half of all women murdered are killed by their current or former partner.

No mention in this article of the admitted, extensive, and pervasive abuse by UN peacekeepers. None. No mention of Islam. But there is this -

In Iraq, women have seen their rights eroded “in all areas of life,” according to the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Erturk.

Iraqi women’s rights, in particular, have eroded in recent years. Something should be done! Give the UN more access to them!

What is the difference between Thanksgiving and Turkey Day?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Amphipolis @ 7:50 am

Is Thursday merely a family feast?

Cicero wrote gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. Thankfulness cuts down bitter complaining attitudes. Thankfulness is the opposite of entitlement. Thankfulness forces us to remember how we have benefited from the sacrifices of others. This thankfulness requires humility, admitting that we really do not deserve the blessings we have received. Thankfulness takes nothing for granted.

I think that without thankfulness it is impossible to truly appreciate anything.

Enjoy your turkey, but talk to your family about what it means to be thankful. Make it explicit.


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