Posts filed under “Current Affairs”

Lone Star Swingin’?


As I was beginning to follow-up my recent post about our changing national demographics, I almost immediately came upon a state-run website that was rich with data about that particular state. As it happens, it was Texas. So, without further ado, a very quick look at the Lone Star state and its population projections.

You can read lots of stories on the internet about how Texas may be headed toward “swing state” status.

Here’s the Houston Chronicle:

WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s re-election victory – fueled by massive turnout among Latinos, African-Americans and other minorities – Texas Democrats began to dream that the nation’s demographic tidal wave would eventually hit Texas.

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro predicted that the reliably “red” Lone Star State is well on its way to “purple” swing state status.

None of the stories I reviewed provided hard data (i.e. what we here at The Big Picture are all about). Having found the Texas State Data Center, it took only a matter of minutes to whip up election year demographics for the state. That table is below:

(Click through for larger)

(Note: The “Total Pop” column is the sum of the other columns displayed and represents the age criteria selected (18-85, which includes those over 85); it is not the total population of the state.)

Here’s the same data looked at a bit differently:

Of course, it is impossible to know how many voting-age residents of any state will register to vote and, beyond that, actually exercise their right to do so (I’m open to suggestions as to how I should model that as I continue to collect data). That said, the table above is remarkable for the change it portends. Look at the explosion of the Hispanic population, the growth of the Black population, and the virtual stagnancy of the Anglo population. It seems conceivable to me that, under the right set of circumstances, Texas could be “in play” by the year 2020. Unless, of course, it secedes, in which case its 38 electoral votes will be lost to Republicans in 2016.

I’ll continue to update periodically as I make my way around the country.

Special thanks to Dr. Glenn Lawyer at the Max-Planck-Institut für Informatik for the ongoing discussion about demographics and the offer of assistance and collaboration on some future posts. Most appreciated, and happy to have you aboard.

Additional, fascinating reading:

Bruce Bartlett, Revenge of the Reality-Based Community

Robert Shrum, GOP Faces Years in the Wilderness

Category: Current Affairs, Data Analysis, Politics

Let’s Keep It Small . . .

I don’t know why this tickles me so, but it just does:   via the New Yorker

Category: Current Affairs, Humor

The Problem With a Really Tiny Tent

@TBPInvictus At some point in the not-too-distant future, I intend to explore the Census Bureau’s excellent data sets on Population Projections and Voting and Registration. I hope to examine how the composition of our nation will change over the next 12 years or so (through the 2024 election). After all, I don’t want Bill O’Reilly…Read More

Category: Current Affairs, Data Analysis, Politics

Google Crisis Map: Power, Gas, Damage from Sandy Damage

Click for interactive map: Source:

Category: Current Affairs, Digital Media, Science, Web/Tech

Stormville / Long Beach After Sandy / Jersey Strong

Residents of Long Beach, N.Y., begin cleaning up from the storm

November 2, 2012By Vijai Singh and Mike Winerip


Residents of New Jersey’s iconic shore say that Hurricane Sandy will not wash away their determination to rebuild the battered coastline.

November 2, 2012By Shayla Harris


With all the destruction, personal loss and inconvenience of half the city of New York without power, there were lighthearted moments on Fifth Avenue during Monday’s storm.

November 2, 2012By Joanna Nikas

Category: Current Affairs, Video

Sandy’s Destruction of Long Island in Photos

Some pretty insane photos from around the web showing impact of Sandy on Long Island:


Superstorm Sandy washed some boats onto front yards in Woodsburgh, on Nassau’s South Shore. Photo Credit: Sender Schwartz


U.S. Coast Guard shows areas of Long Island damaged by Superstorm Sandy Photo Credit: Getty Images


A street in Long Beach covered in beach sand caused by flooding from the Superstorm Sandy. Photo Credit: Getty Images



More photos after the jump:

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Category: Current Affairs, Digital Media, Science

Fibonacci Hurricane (Sandy)

click for larger image Source: Vic LeFaber, Google+

Category: Current Affairs, Digital Media, Mathematics, Science

Addressing the BLS Truther Controversy


Friday’s BLS truther controversy was, in a word, sad. That folks now nonchalantly float claims that government agencies fudge numbers is (or should be) beyond the pale (just as it was in 1970 when Nixon did it). But it’s not. While the truther discussion has made its way into every nook and cranny of the interwebs, maybe it would be instructive to take a look at some anecdotal information that supports Friday’s allegedly contrived unemployment number.

Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal suggested early Friday that the numbers we’d gotten earlier last week on auto sales foretold a decent jobs/unemployment number, which sent me scurrying to FRED to produce a chart:

(Note: Unemployment Rate is inverted to better show correlation. Chart is current through Friday’s release)


The pattern of auto sales leading the unemployment rate is crystal clear. Great call, Joe. So, the same folks who are skeptical of the BLS must necessarily also question the sales reports of GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, BMW, and every other car manufacturer that reports monthly sales figures (i.e. all of them).

Another piece of anecdotal information that I’ve used for years now is the NFIB’s “Poor Sales” (as Single Biggest Problem) vs. the Unemployment Rate:


As of the NFIB’s most recent report, Poor Sales was cited by 20 percent of businesses as their Single Biggest Problem in their Small Business Economic Trends report.

Finally, the BLS itself goes to great pains to be transparent, and does a good job doing so. Earlier this year, their Editor’s Desk column ran a piece titled Employment Trends From Two Surveys, which very broadly discussed the two surveys from which jobs data is compiled.

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Category: Current Affairs, Data Analysis, Economy, Employment, Really, really bad calls

5 Theories Why Romney Won’t Release His Tax Records

Invictus here.

Mitt Romney didn’t have a very good week. When the Romney Campaign releases his 2011 taxes as a subject-changer, it’s a safe bet that things haven’t been going swimmingly.

Let’s oblige them by wading into this tax story.

Here is what we know: GOP candidate Mitt Romney has released his two most recent tax returns. According to Politifact, that’s far fewer than most presidential candidates disclose. As an example, Romney’s father, George, had released 12 years of tax returns. He has steadfastly refused to release the rest, despite being goaded by many players — not just Democrats and media pundits, but by members of the GOP establishment as well. Regardless, he has not been very forthcoming.

Why has he refused? There are no good answers, only speculations. Given that not releasing additional tax docs has cost Romney politically only increases the arm chair hypothesizing. All summer, the incumbent has battered the challenger on this (and related issues). Romney’s approval ratings have been hurt. His refusal is helping to coalesce a detrimental media narrative: There are different rules for people of privilege than for the rest of the country, and Romney has taken advantage of them. These week’s 47% gaffe only plays into that same narrative.

While the Obama ads have been politically effective, it’s been even more surprising that there has not been a successful counter from the GOP candidate. Romney was even vetted as a Veep candidate in 2008 by the McCain camp, where they ostensibly saw his tax records. McCain himself said Romney provided 20 years of records, and has paid his taxes . . . but then again, he passed over Romney for Sarah Palin as Veep.

The Obama campaign has offered to drop the issue if Romney releases just 5 years of tax docs. Still, the Romney camp has refused.

All of these minor sleights and unanswered accusations have led to a cottage industry of imagining what secrets might be hidden in these tax records. We do not know, but we can use some deductive reasoning to come up with some reasonable theories as to why Romney won’t share with voters what he showed the McCain camp (or perhaps, what took place post-McCain).

Here are our 5 top contenders:

1) 0% Tax Rates: The released tax documents show a very low tax rate, and Romney has said he never paid less than a 13% rate over the past 10 years. However, its not inconceivable that through a combination of aggressive tax planning, use of Trusts, earned income carry forwards and use of tax havens like Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Cayman Islands and Bermuda, Romney may have paid no taxes whatsoever in 2009 and years prior. His advisors may have correctly surmised this would be fatal to his Presidential aspirations.

Since I began composing this post, the Romney campaign has released a letter from his accountants to the effect that, over the period reviewed, the Romneys’ lowest tax rate was 13.66 percent (though there was a bit of numerical gymnastics to make that true in 2011). Note that Romney’s letter from PricewaterhouseCoopers discusses “adjusted gross income” — not total income; this subtle difference has already been debunked.

Not surprisingly in the post-Enron, post-WorldCom world, the word of an accountant ain’t worth the pixels used to write it. And, if it’s true, why not just get them out there and be done with with?

Well, maybe it’s:

2) Voter FraudThe Guardian and others came up with an even simpler theory: That Romney has voted in a state in which he was not technically a resident (i.e. voting in Massachusetts when he was actually a resident of California).

I first saw this in Forbes, which mentioned that “Romney appears to have escaped relatively unsinged from the apparently unrelated revelation that he may have committed voter fraud in January 2010, when – despite not owning a house in Massachusetts and having given every appearance of having moved to California…”

3) Broken Tax Laws: Personally, I assign this a very low to moderate probability. However, without releasing his returns, Romney leaves himself open to speculation that he may perhaps have crossed a line and submitted returns that are somehow numerically fraudulent and/or otherwise illegal (separate and apart from the aforementioned address issue).

BR has raised the issue of Romney’s IRA. William Cohan at Bloomberg has also wondered how he was able to legally amass $102 million in his individual retirement account — tax free! — during the 15 years he was at Bain Capital, despite contribution limits that would seem to make that all but impossible. What sort of rate of return is that, anyway?

Regarding the IRA contributions, Victor Fleischer, Professor of Law at University of Colorado is rather blunt: “Bottom line: Mitt Romney has not paid all the taxes required under law.”

Beyond that, it’s possible he is:

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Category: Current Affairs, Politics, Taxes and Policy

Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Going Viral?

I had barely finished reading Niall Ferguson’s takedown of President Obama when a flood of  takedowns of Mr. Ferguson started hitting the web. This post, then, will not be about his Newsweek piece, but instead about his recent Bloomberg TV interview with Erik Schatzker and Sara Eisen. And, in particular, one very specific part of that interview where…Read More

Category: Current Affairs, Data Analysis, Economy, Employment, Politics, Really, really bad calls