Sunday, December 28, 2008

House of Wing

Christy and I met some friends tonight at a restaurant that used  to be called "Buffalo Wing House", and is now called "House of Wings".  The letters in the sign for the restaurant, however, simply said "HOUSE OF WING".  Christy was able to figure out why there was no "S" on the word "WINGS" in the sign.  See if you can figure it out.

PETA Snowball Game

My score in the PETA Snowball Fight Game:

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why Congress Does Nothing

I have been thinking about why congress is at an all-time low approval rating and nothing ever gets done.

It is easy to see why the approval ratings are so low.  The last few Presidents and Congresses have promised us legislation on immigration, Social Security, global warming, etc.  But on each of these issues we all know that they spent many hours and days debating the issues and no significant legislation was ever passed.  So they deserve their low approval ratings.  But what are the underlying reasons that Congress passed major laws in the past, but has not been able to do so recently?

If you are a Congressman, these are the worst events, in order, for your future livelihood:
1. There is a crisis and you do nothing
2. You proactively pass something that is not agreeable to the base
3. You do nothing

So the incentive is: respond to any crisis, and then do nothing else.  This is why you often see that we have "legislation by body count".  For example, a bridge collapses and then Congress quickly passes the "Bridge Inspection Act".  But Congress does nothing, for example, to prevent the gradual implosion of the economy, because additional regulation would anger the base.  So how did we ever get to a point where #2 (taking visionary action) is worse than #3 (nothing)?

Gerrymandering is a way of defining Congressional districts which makes it almost impossible for incumbents to ever lose to the opposing party.  This gets worse and worse over time, as those in power continue to further segregate the voting districts to magnify this advantage.  Thus, it turns out that winning primaries has become more of a concern than winning the general election.  This is because, as an incumbent, once you win your primary you are almost assured of staying in office.  The problem with primaries is that the extremists who comprise 15% of the population are the people who decide the outcome in primary elections.  So elected officials are extremely wary of ever reaching across the aisle to pass any legislation that would upset the extremists in their district, and jeopardize their chance in the next primary.

Conclusion: On any issue, if there is not a crisis Congress will remain hopelessly deadlocked

What are some solutions to this predicament?

1. Lifetime appointments would likely fix this problem.  This is why, for example, Supreme Court justices are not as partisan as members of Congress.  However, people do not support this option because they believe it is more likely to lead to corruption, and they also like blaming politicians for their problems and having the option of electing new ones (even though they almost never do).

2. Re-draw the districts to be more even.  This would be an arduous process and of course the incumbents would fight strongly against this.

3. What are some other solutions you can think of?