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Posts Tagged ‘federal government’

The month of April, according to the folks over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is Fair Housing Month.

There’s even a link provided by HUD that describes what the Fair Housing Act is. Officially known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act basically bans a home seller or landlord from discriminating against a buyer or renter on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Originally, this post was going to be about the exceptions to this law. I was going to title this post “The Discriminating Discriminator”, but then I came across something bizarre enough to make me rethink my post. Something bizarre enough to share.

In 1988, an amendment was added banning discrimination against anyone with a handicap. Seems simple enough. The law even goes into detail as to define “handicap”. Title 42, Section 3602, paragraph (h) of the United States Civil Code (USCC) states:

(h) “Handicap” means, with respect to a person—
(1) a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities,
(2) a record of having such an impairment, or
(3) being regarded as having such an impairment,

Again, seems simple enough…until you read the Notes section for this part of the USCC.

The Notes section states, in part, that “neither the term ‘individual with handicaps’ nor the term ‘handicap’ shall apply to an individual solely because that individual is a transvestite.”

Huh?

Double-Huh?

Who was it that ever thought being a transvestite was a handicap akin to a “mental impairment”?!?

Oh…up until May of last year, the bible of the psychological profession, the DSM-IV, thought so. The latest version, the DSM-V, has removed “gender identity disorder” as a mental illness.

Here’s another thought. Since someone took the time to put those Notes in the USCC, I wonder if there was ever a moment (after 1988 but before May 2013) when a transvestite attempted to buy/rent a home and the seller/landlord refused. Then, did this transvestite file a complaint claiming discrimination because of his “disability”. Hey, it was defined in the DSM-IV as a “mental disorder” so here was the transvestite’s one opportunity to use that moniker to his/her advantage. In the court case that followed, did the judge rule for the transvestite, which then prompted legislators and/or HUD officials to add the Note.

There’s a story here. Just wish I had the time to ferret it out.

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Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post about a press release I found concerning the Presidential Commission on Electoral Administration (PCEA).

The PCEA was a commission asked for by the President to come up with recommendations on how to better run elections.

Yes, I realize I am late to the party but allow me to post on the final report put out by the PCEA which came out in January of this year.

In its report (PDF version here), the PCEA has six key recommendations. In order, they are…

Online registration: The PCEA says the trend towards online voter registration should continue and that states should allow eligible voters to vote and update their registration via the Internet.

Interstate exchange of voter lists: The PCEA recommends that states check their voter registration lists against each other to ensure accuracy.

Expand Election Day: To reduce congestion on Election Day, the PCEA suggests that states expand alternative modes of voting (e.g., vote-by-mail, in-person early voting)

Use Schools as Polling Places: The PCEA recommends that states encourage the use of schools as polling places as those locations can provide the best facilities to conduct elections.

Adopt Resource Allocations Tools: The PCEA links to their own website and to a resource allocation calculator which election officials can use to determine how voting machines and staff that might be needed.

Upcoming Crisis: The PCEA says that within the next decade, many voting machines will have reached their end-of-life and will need to be replaced. The PCEA recommends that the standards and certification process for new voting technology be reformed.

With those six recommendations in mind, my follow-up question is this: Will my home state of Virginia adopt any of these recommendations or is this PCEA report yet another federally created doorstop?

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Tripping through the Web is one of my fun activities. Poking through the nooks and crannies of the Internet turns up some interesting items, especially when I turn my electronic spotlight on the halls of American government.

Case in point today is the White House.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue puts out press releases and other announcements on a daily basis. On March 28, the Office of the Press Secretary put out this communication which creates the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

“Yeah,” he writes with sarcasm, “another commission created by the White House.”

Part of the release states that the mission of the Commission – whose acronym is PCEA – is to…

…identify best practices and otherwise make recommendations to promote the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay…

Further down in the announcement, it states that PCEA can consider…

…the number, location, management, operation, and design of polling places;
…the training, recruitment, and number of poll workers;
…the efficient management of voter rolls and poll books;
…voting machine capacity and technology;

Now, please correct me if I am wrong (feel free to leave your pleasant feedback in the Comments section), but aren’t all elections the responsibility of the states or local authorities? Heck, even a Presidential election is actually fifty-one separate elections run by the fifty states and the District of Columbia.

So, doesn’t it seem like an intrusion of the federal government into the state’s sphere by coming up with recommendations about elections? A story from POLITICO ends with that same thought as Jennifer Epstein writes, “Most election laws are determined by states and local jurisdictions, and even where the federal government does have oversight…”

The release from the White House says that the Commission will be advisory in nature so there is nothing mandatory about PCEA’s ideas. What that means is that the end result here is that (at most) nine people will get together, hold meetings, chat, debate, and create a document that would become a weighty doorstop if people still used doorstops.

However, there is one person who expressed his support for PCEA. Perhaps President Obama can name him to the commission.

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The controversy has been out of the news of late – Mitt Romney hasn’t been talking about firing Big Bird and National Public Radio hasn’t fired anyone for their views – but I wanted to write about federal funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB).

First, though, some givens that I want to set up front for this piece. According to this October 2012 article from ProPublica, the CPB was set to $445 million over two years. For simplicity sake, I will cut that number in half and assert that the CPB was scheduled to receive $222.5 million for a fiscal year.

Second, funding cuts both ways. When the government hands out money – as in the case with CPB or any other organization or agency, it can be said to be funding that entity. Likewise, if the government grants a tax break to an organization or agency, it is in essence funding that entity also because the government is letting that group keep money that it would have paid out. If the feds grant me a tax credit or exemption of $100 on for IRS 1040 form, it is the same as if they had given me $100. So, the federal government can subsidize something by giving it money or by not taking away money that other groups have to pay.

While doing a bit of research for this post, I came across this piece by David McElroy. One part of his argument about government funding for CPB is “…the problem would be that government is funding a mechanism that influences our culture.”

Okay, so the feds should be out the business of funding those groups that influence culture. Check.

Another line of reasoning follows the thread that federal funding should not go towards groups and organizations that espouse views different from the author’s. Mostly this thread comes from conservative or right-wing writers who see National Public Radio and other CPB outlets as having a leftist or liberal bias (here and here and here).

Okay, so the feds should be out the business of funding organizations with an obvious bias and holds views that I do not believe in. Check.

With the above “checks” in mind, let me propose a fair swap of funding subsidies.

I will gladly trade CPB’s annual $222.5 million and I will do by utmost to pick up the tab for the programs I enjoy (Marketplace, Studio 360, Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me, etc.)…

…if you agree that the federal government should stop subsidizing religion to the tune of $71 billion (yes, with a “B”) per year as determined by this study. The federal government funds religious organizations by giving them tax credits in the form of deductions for charitable donations and for exemptions from paying property taxes.

Religion influences culture. Check.
Religion – especially the non-Jewish ones – have a bias and hold views different from my own. Check.

Religion fits both criteria above as held by those authors who want the federal government to stop funding CPB.

I realize this means that my synagogue will have to come up with some extra funds, but just like NPR’s Morning Edition, I will be there to help them out during their annual pledge drives.

If you don’t think this plan would work, you should have more faith.

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The calendar marches on and with the start of October, the end of fiscal year (FY2012) arrived.

With that milestone on the calendar reached, the federal government announced that it ran a deficit in FY2012 of about $1.1 trillion.

For those of you who like your numbers written out in digits that would $1,100,000,000,000.

There are organizations and people who have the responsibility of attempting to predict what the deficit will be. I have written about budget predictions before (see here and here and here).

The overriding theme from those posts is that people and groups who make predictions about the budget are wrong.

This veridiction (my made-up name for the process of verifying predictions) posting is about predictions made about the FY2012 deficit.

Back in January 2003, The Washington Post ran a story about how the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) updated its projections from August 2002. Here is the graphic from that story…

Budget projections from 2003

Apologies for the pencil markings on the bottom

As you can see, the August 2002 estimate from CBO showed the federal government running a surplus at the end of FY2012 of $522 billion. The January 2003 revision cut the projected surplus to $451 billion. Those surplus numbers are a far cry from the actual deficit of $1.1 trillion.

In fact, if you can make out my pencil scrawlings at the bottom of the graphic, the CBO did not correctly predict the deficit or surplus for any fiscal year between 2002 and 2012.

Not to be dissuaded from their continued track record of failure, the CBO jumped on the prediction horse again and again. Five years later, the Post had another story about budget predictions. In this graphic, the CBO prediction competes for space with a prediction made by the Bush Administration.

Budget projections from 2007

Apologies for the misalignment

As in 2003, this 2007 prediction is off by a country mile.

The CBO predicted that the federal government would run a deficit of $146 billion at the end of FY2012 while the administration of the 43rd President signaled a surplus of $61 billion. Again, numbers that are far removed from the actual of $1.1T.

I’m not sure why people continue to make predictions about the budget because they – for the most part – are wrong. Not just wrong, but completely and fantastically wrong.

However, with the start of FY2013, I’m sure the CBO and the current administration will try again and gaze into their cracked crystal budgetary ball.

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The Finger of Blame

With Congress set this week to vote on funding the federal government for the rest of this fiscal year, the news is that there will be about $50 billion worth of cuts made to federal programs.

The support for all this budget-cutting comes in the phrase “We have no money” which is heard ad naseum from regular folk, pundits, and politicians.

Except, of course…that we’re not broke.

Even as far back as December 2010, the United States federal government was set to rake in $860 billion (17 times what is being cut from the Fiscal Year 2011 spending plan), but Congress and the White House gave it away.

The CNN Money article that I link to above does a great job (as does this article also) detailing the…

…$68 billion given away due to the revision of the estate tax;
…$81.5 billion given away to folks earning more than $200,000; and
…$69 billion given away in business tax breaks.

However, before we all grab the torches and pitchforks please remember that when you point the finger of blame at someone else, there are three other fingers pointing back at you.

I bring that adage up because included in the December 2010 giveaway was $111.7 billion (twice the amount being cut in the current fiscal year) in the Social Security tax holiday.

Bottom line – We are not broke. We simply decided to give the money away. Please enjoy you tax holiday as the federal programs you don’t even know you count on wither away.

Politicians, and the people who elect them, do the country no great service when they make the false claim we are all broke and at the same time give money away.

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So the blog-o-sphere is all up in arms (see here and here and here) because Representative Pete King (Republican from New York) is chairing Congressional hearings looking into home-grown terrorism.

Personally, I applaud Representative King and I believe he should start his hearing by questioning the speaker of these words…

…[W]e have not only the right, but the moral obligation to overthrow that government by force if necessary, and form a new government that will protect our rights.

(Full speech here)

Oh wait…the utter of those words advocating the violent overthrow of the federal government is not a Muslim, but is in fact a white born-again Christian…so don’t look for his type to be at King’s hearings.

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