Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Obscenity laws are stupid and unconstitutional

I stole that title from a line in this Adam Serwer post discussing the Supreme Court's ruling regarding whether video games are protected by the first amendment. Here is Serwer with a run down:

Whether he enjoyed them or not, the implication of Scalia's majority ruling in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association is that he would have thought of them as being protected by the First Amendment. The EMA was dealt a substantial assist by the American cultural distaste for explicit sexuality as opposed to explicit violence, a preference enshrined in obscenity law. California tried to argue that the games in question were obscene and thus subject to regulation, but Scalia noted that "the obscenity exception to the First Amendment does not cover whatever a legislature finds shocking, but only depictions of “sexual conduct[.]" According to the majority opinion, the First Amendment allows the government to regulate depictions of sexytime, not the sublime feeling of WTFPwning some poor n00b over Xbox Live.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in a separate dissent, expresses frustration at this double standard, asking "What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only when the woman—bound, gagged, tortured, and killed—is also topless?" Answer: The First Amendment as read by gun toting prudes. Breyer has the right argument, but in arguing the California law should have been upheld, the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion is that obscenity laws are stupid and unconstitutional.

I actually wrote a paper on obscenity in my constitutional law class in grad school. I argued essentially the same thing that Serwer does, which is that the court shouldn't distinguish between depictions of sex being obscene compared to things like violence as not being obscene.

What sounds worse for someone, even a kid, to see; a raunchy sex scene or a person being killed? Aside from what's worse, when would a kid ever see those things? In a free society why shouldn't an adult be able to watch the kind of stuff that is currently considered obscene? Its not like the stuff is broadcast publicly during peak child tv watching hours. Yet because our country is so sexually repressed and as Serwer points out, so obsessed with guns, we deem things unacceptable instead of letting adults decide on their own what they want to consume all the while letting people use guns to kill each other and then showing it on the news.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Obama on gay marriage

Basically he says that he doesn't like the Defense of Marriage Act but that doesn't mean he supports gay marriage on the federal level. His logic is that "traditionally", marriage has been handled by the states.

As regular readers know I don't like that argument. Traditionally, states have made a lot of stupid laws that restrict people's rights and limit liberty. And banning gay marriage is one of them. Given that fact, why should we keep letting them make laws like banning gay marriage? I'm kind of appalled that a Democratic president in 2011 just made that argument. Its the same argument that the Confederation was making leading up the Civil War and during the Jim Crow era.

Surely after those experiences you need a better argument than, "Well, traditionally states have decided the issue". Tradition for the sake of tradition is dumb. Allowing the restriction of rights simply because a state has always said it wanted to is ridiculous. My guess is that Obama is just full of shit and doesn't have the courage to fall in line with his party, and really most of the nation. While Andrew Sullivan may be right that he is leading from behind on this issue like he has on others, that is just unacceptable to me.

This kind of problem with states restricting rights was foreseen by James Madison. I've finished about a fourth of the book "Madison and Jefferson" and the authors document that Madison feared the power of states after seeing what was happening in his home state of Virginia. And thus at the Constitutional Convention he proposed limiting states' rights. Sadly he didn't quite get what he wanted and we had to fight a civil war to prove that states needed better policing by the federal gov't (don't mistake better for total, see the federal gov'ts horrible drug policies). While the circumstances aren't as dire as they were back then, its still kind of sad that we are still having these federalism arguments.

Beer commercials

Apparently the channels I watch are channels advertisers think a lot of other men my age watch. Thus I see a ton of beer, car, and insurance ads. I'm sure cars and insurance are par for the course on most channels. But it seems like that is all I see when I watch tv.

As of late beer commercials have become extremely annoying. First of all their beer tastes like shit. And when I say their beer I mean predominantly Bud Light and Miller Lite, and to a lesser extent Coors Light. Secondly, theirs ads are either just extremely dumb or sexist. Coors Light's latest is Ice Cube arguing with a bottle over who is colder. Who gives a shit if your beer is super cold? Cold is good enough. The fact that it is super cold isn't going to make up for its poor taste.

Miller Lite is the worst because they have gone to ads that are all sexist. I won't analyze all of them, but basically their message is that unless you drink their beer you are not fully a man. They even go as far as to suggest that you are a woman if you don't drink their beer. Add in the fact that their beer is even worse than Coors Light and its safe to say I'm sticking to Newcastle even though it costs 10 bucks a six pack.

A more plausible bomb scenario?

Recently I posted on how ridiculous the ticking tim bomb scenario is when discussing torture. It doesn't seem plausible nor a justification for torture. And surely the rest of the world along with us thought so when it decided to outlaw torture under all circumstances.

I thought about the scenario again today when I was watching Casino Royale, the first James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig, not to mention the stunning Eva Green. Towards the beginning of the movie Bond is trying to run down a few bomb makers in hopes of finding the guy who hired them. Eventually he meets up with a guy who is trying to blow up a new airplane being unveiled in an airport so that the main villain of the movie can make a ton of money betting against the company that made the plane.

What I think makes this a more plausible scenario than the often mentioned ticking time bomb one is that the bomber plants it and blows it up right away. Plus he uses a conventional bomb, not a nuclear one which would be nearly impossible to obtain and transport to the desired location. Granted, the guy in the movie just wanted to destroy an airplane. Terrorists want to kill a lot of innocent people. But in the real world we have seen how relatively easy that can be. Anyone who is willing to die just needs to cook up their own bomb at home, strap it to themselves, and go to a public area.

I think that is far, far more likely than any ticking time bomb scenario, and more difficult to prevent. Now that I think about it, its the Bond scenario that would justify torture more than the ticking time bomb one. At least with the ticking time bomb you have some time to try and prevent it. In the Bond scenario it took a really badass fictional character to run a guy down and stop him in the nick of time. And that further highlights the problem with using film and tv as a guide for real world policies.

If a Bond movie tried to be as realistic as possible it would involve James sitting around an office pouring over intel or wandering around for days on end gathering the intel himself. There would be a lot less awesome fight and sex scenes. And even I would be bored watching that. But the real world needs effective and legal policies, not exciting ones that don't work.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hillary Clinton's Libya rhetoric

Glenn Greenwald has the awesomely titled "Plurality of Americans love Gadaffi" piece documenting her rhetoric on people who disagree with the Obama administration's actions in Libya. Here is what she said:

But the bottom line is, whose side are you on? Are you on Qadhafi’s side or are you on the side of the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been created to support them? For the Obama Administration, the answer to that question is very easy.

This is the kind of stuff that really pissed me off about the Bush administration. They painted every move they did in this kind of pseudo-patriotism stuff in which if you disagree with them you are somehow helping the enemy. Its even more ridiculous coming from Clinton and an Obama administration that criticized Bush for doing it.

As Glenn keeps documenting and I keep reiterating, the Obama administration is barely distinguishable from the Bush administration on these issues and the way they are handled. And that is really depressing because there just doesn't seem to be an end in sight. The best we can hope for is in 2016 when a different Democrat runs for the White House.

Its about damn time: gay marriage addition

Last night New York legalized gay marriage. I wasn't really surprised by the news. NY is a pretty liberal state. But the vote in their senate was pretty close. So props to those people who pushed it through. And congrats to everyone in NY, especially gay people who are now a lot more free. I look forward to those of you who want to get married proving all of the ridiculous claims against gay marriage wrong.

You're on notice, the rest of the country.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Here we go again: torture edition

I am so beyond tired of talking about torture, mainly because the people who ordered it are sitting in mansions instead of jail cells where they belong. But also because its illegal, ineffective, wrong and just all around a bad idea. But General Petraeus, formerly an anti-torture advocate, had to go blabbing to Congress about the ridiculous "ticking time bomb" scenario.

In the vast majority of cases, Petraeus said, the "humane" questioning standards mandated by the U.S. Army Field Manual are sufficient to persuade detainees to talk. But though he did not use the word torture, Petraeus said "there should be discussion ... by policymakers and by Congress" about something "more than the normal techniques." Petraeus... described an example of a detainee who knows how to disarm a nuclear device set to explode under the Empire State Building.

Is this guy fucking serious? Did he just get done watching a few episodes of '24'? I wouldn't put that past him since its actually been documented that senior officials took cues from the show. Where else would they come up with this shit than from a tv show or a movie? A nuke under the Empire State Building? Did Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer slip a few lines into Petraeus' notes?

Silly Liberals and their so-called "Facts"

I don't have any commentary on this awesome piece by Jonathan Bernstein. I just wanted to pass it along because its funny and shows how ridiculous Republicans are when it comes to taxes. Here is a taste:

So why did the economy grow so fast in the 1990s? No question about that -- it grew because of the Reagan tax cuts of 1981. Now, granted, those tax cuts couldn't prevent a recession in 1990-1991, which was caused by Clinton's tax increases in 1993, but the effects of the Reagan tax cuts kicked back in again around 1994 and resulted in several years of excellent growth 

Beyond rationality

I've written before about the idea of politicians acting rationally. Basically when political scientists say a politician is acting rationally it means they are acting in the most effective manner in order to achieve the highest priority goal they have determined for themselves. And most often the highest goal for politicians is to get reelected.

In that post I talked about Haley Barbour dissenting against Eric Cantor's idea that natural disaster relief funding should be offset elsewhere in the budget. Barbour was going against a high ranking fellow Republican because it was more in his interests to give his constituents relief than follow the party line being set by Cantor.

Well Cantor is in the news again for walking out of the debt ceiling negotiations. And Jared Bernstein has some harsh (and I think correct) criticism for him:

It’s profoundly irresponsible and reckless behavior. Given the fragile recovery, the recent growth slowdown, and the looming debt ceiling, I don’t understand how someone elected to represent the best interests of the country can justify such an action.

I know…the R’s really don’t want revenues to be part of the budget deal. But the reality is that they’re not running the country on their own and that means they’ll need to compromise.

Anyone walking away from that table needs to take a hard look at the extent of economic harship facing American families right now and ask yourself why prolonging that pain is worth the political leverage you gain from it.

The time for such game playing is long past. Stop screwing around, cut the deal, and raise the debt ceiling.

Props to Mr. Bernstein for being refreshingly blunt. I highlight this in relation to rationality because political scientists acknowledge that reelection is not the only goal of politicians. The other obvious goal that Bernstein points out would be to make good policy. And that doesn't always coincide with reelection. So if a politician is dedicated to both reelection and making good policy there are times where a trade off is needed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Obama's definition of war

In regard to the actions Obama is taking in Libya he doesn't think it amounts to war. Basically he thinks that since we are using un-maned ships to drop bombs and don't have troops on the ground it doesn't constitute a war. And therefore he ignored the advice of the OLC in the Justice Department and continues operations in Libya without regard for the War Powers act.

My question for Obama is this. Would it constitute an act of war if a country (say Russia because they might have the technology) flew an un-maned plane to the US and dropped a bomb on something? And just like in Libya, they wouldn't have any troops on the ground. I have a hard time seeing how that would not be defined as an act of war. Yet when he does it Obama doesn't think it is.

At the very least its nice that someone in the Justice Department was telling him he was wrong. At least Obama didn't pull a Bush/Yoo and just have some bullshit document drawn up to justify his actions. Small steps I guess. Maybe by the time I'm retired we will have cleaned out the entire foreign policy establishment that thinks it can redefine things and do stupid shit whenever it feels like it.

Update: I was wrong about how they went to the OLC within the Justice Department to get legal advice. According to this, they did the OLC's job for them by contacting relevant agencies about the legal matter and just lumped the OLC's advice in with them. And then they did a rare thing by ignoring that advice. That sounds like just a step or two below a Bush/Yoo.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Franklin and Bash

I started watching this show because I like the two stars. And they have been as charming and funny as I thought they would be. The rest of the cast is solid as well, especially Malcolm McDowell. The beautiful women in F&B's apartment who act as extras are nice too. Despite the case of the week formula that I usually hate its been entertaining.

One thing that I question is why did they join the big law firm so quickly? IIRC they were offered the job in the first episode. They executed everything well enough. But it seems to me that they could have spent a lot more time following F&B on their own. More backstory would have given them a bit more depth. And they could have used more time to bring them into confrontation with the firm and give more depth to the skepticism around the office.

Maybe I have watched too many Whedon shows. But I think more conflict and tension would have been a good thing. And when they finally joined the firm we could have gotten into the stuff they are dealing with now. As it is, the only thing the show can do to shake things up would be to have them get fired or have one or both of them quit. That would be a good route to take. But there aren't many routes to take on a show like this and I'd want to save something for future seasons.

Quick note to the producers. The second girl who walked out of the hot tub on tonight's episode had the greatest ass I've ever seen. Feel free to bring her back. If you need another casting director I'm available.

Discrimination isn't discrimination as long as you say it isn't

The Supreme Court (5 of them anyway) ruled against a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of women employees of Wal-Mart claiming sexual discrimination. Here is Adam Serwer's breakdown of the case:

Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent, reveal a fundamental cleavage in the way the Republican and Democratic appointees on the court view the issue of discrimination. Dismissing the statistical and anecdotal evidence filed by the plaintiffs, Scalia argued that "Wal-Mart’s “policy” of allowing discretion by local supervisors over employment matters" was "just the opposite of a uniformemployment practice that would provide the commonality needed for a class action; it is a policy against having uniform employment practices." Scalia also pointed out that Wal-Mart has a written policy of non-discrimination.

"The majority makes a huge deal out of the fact that they have a piece of paper that says we have a “nondiscrimination policy,” but they know that this system results in women being overwhelmingly at the bottom, and as you go up the chain, there’s only men at the top," says Brian J. Siebel, Director of Justice Programs at the Alliance for Justice. “The [managers] are in the 'good ol’ boys club." In her dissent, Ginsburg notes that at Wal-Mart, women fill about 70 percent of the hourly retail jobs, but only 33 percent of management employees. The reason, Ginsburg argues, may very well be the subjective "tap on the shoulder process" that allows certain subjective standards, influenced by gender bias, to prevail when it comes to selecting employees deemed "management material."

Another interpretation of what happened:

Scalia concludes that (even in advance of a lawsuit) the women could not show that Wal-Mart "operated under a general policy of discrimination." That's partly because "Wal-Mart's announced policy forbid sex discrimination" and partly because he rejects the plaintiffs' claim that Wal-Mart's "policy" of allowing discretion by local supervisors over employment matters constitutes a policy at all. As Scalia sees it, in giving local managers so much leeway in making personnel decisions, Wal-Mart actually established "a policy against having uniform employment practices." It's not Wal-Mart discriminating against women. It's just all these men doing it, and God knows men don't have unconscious biases and prejudices against women.

That's the kind of legal reasoning you are likely to get from old, rich white guys. The effects of the "policy" were discrimination against women. That is simply what the numbers say. I just don't see how that could be a statistical anomaly.

This kind of stuff is why I'm glad I didn't go to law school. It would have driven me nuts. Not to mention that like myself, new law school grads aren't exactly turning down many high paying jobs. I hope the ones who are turn out better opinions than this one.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pawlenty, a more powerful wizard than previously thought

In my last post on Tim Pawlenty I quoted Bush's own economists saying that he was wrong to say tax cuts increased revenue. Pawlenty has doubled down on his magical belief in tax cuts by saying this:

“When Ronald Reagan cut taxes in a significant way, revenues actually increased by almost 100 percent during his eight years as president. So this idea that significant, big tax cuts necessarily result in lower revenues – history does not [bear] that out.”

Wow. That's an amazing increase in revenue. Unfortunately, as Bruce Bartlett explains, it would take an extremely powerful wizard to conjure up that result:

In point of fact, this assertion is completely untrue. Federal revenues were $599.3 billion in fiscal year 1981 and were $991.1 billion in fiscal year 1989. That’s an increase of just 65 percent. But of course a lot of that represented inflation. If 1981 revenues had only risen by the rate of inflation, they would have been $798 billion by 1989. Thus the real revenue increase was just 24 percent. However, the population also grew. Looking at real revenues per capita, we see that they rose from $3,470 in 1981 to $4,006 in 1989, an increase of just 15 percent. Finally, it is important to remember that Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times, increasing revenues by $133 billion per year as of 1988 – about a third of the nominal revenue increase during Reagan’s presidency.

The fact is that the only metric that really matters is revenues as a share of the gross domestic product. By this measure, total federal revenues fell from 19.6 percent of GDP in 1981 to 18.4 percent of GDP by 1989. This suggests that revenues were $66 billion lower in 1989 as a result of Reagan’s policies.

This is not surprising given that no one in the Reagan administration ever claimed that his 1981 tax cut would pay for itself or that it did. Reagan economists Bill Niskanen and Martin Anderson have written extensively on this oft-repeated myth. Conservative economist Lawrence Lindsey made a thorough effort to calculate the feedback effect in his 1990 book, The Growth Experiment. He concluded that the behavioral and macroeconomic effects of the 1981 tax cut, resulting from both supply-side and demand-side effects, recouped about a third of the static revenue loss.

Juuust a bit short Mr. Pawlenty. Maybe he was distracted by Emma Watson when they taught tax policy at wizard school. (I could forgive him if that was the case. Ms. Watson is stunningly beautiful)

What I want to know is does Pawlenty and the rest of the GOP actually believe this line about tax cuts increasing revenue or are they just flat out lying in order to get their way. If they truly belief it I would be really worried.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Why attack the Rebels on Hoth?

I'm watching The Empire Strikes Back and that is the question that I had when watching the first few scenes. That's a pretty crappy planet. Luke and Han are on a recon mission during which there is a blizzard and some sort of huge snow monster nearly kills Luke. He escapes only to wander through the blizzard, which has gotten worse, and barely survives thanks to Han.

That's a dangerous place. Not to mention that the rebel forces seem pretty small and the planet doesn't seem to have many natural resources they can draw from. So why shouldn't the empire just sit back and wait them out?

Vader senses Hoth is where they are hiding. I can understand if this was the last of the entire rebel alliance and the empire wanted to wipe them out in one last stroke. But I doubt that is the case given the sizable coalition the rebels have in Return of the Jedi. Regardless, Vader wants to invade Hoth because Luke is there. Upon learning that the droid has exploded on Hoth, he says that he is "certain Skywalker is there". To me that suggests his primary concern is finding Luke, not so much crushing the rebellion.

That sparks another question. Why is Vader so concerned about Luke? Its only later in the movie that Vader talks to the Emperor and is told that Skywalker is the son of Anakin and therefore must be destroyed. Vader then says that turning him to the dark side would be a good move and thus makes it his expressed goal to find him.

During that conversation with the Emperor is Vader hiding his emotions and intentions? I'm not sure because the first movie and everything up to this point in Empire doesn't say how they know Luke is a Skywalker (unless I'm not remembering something). The only contact Vader has with Luke in the first movie is right before Luke blows up the Death Star. And Vader's only comment is that "the Force is strong with this one". Does Vader later conclude from this encounter that this person is a Skywalker? Or do him and the Emperor talk about things in between the first and second movies and come to that conclusion? It can't be the latter because of the conversation I mentioned they have later in Empire. And after just watching that conversation, Vader says that he has felt the "great disturbance" in the Force that led the Emperor to conclude that the rebel who blew up the Death Star is Skywalker.

So I guess my theory is that Vader knows that Luke is his son from that encounter at the end of the first movie (also he knows who Leah is without the Emperor telling him, so he seems to be able to just feel it). And then when they attack Hoth in Empire he is doing so because he wants to find Luke and have the conversation they have in Cloud City at the end of Empire. I think Vader doesn't go all mushy on Luke because he is either still conflicted between those feelings and those towards the Emperor and the Jedi or he can't reveal his true emotions because the Emperor would find out and kill him and Luke. I'd go with the former because of how hesitant he is at the end of Jedi to save Luke and kill the Emperor. Only after the Emperor is gone can Vader embrace his feelings about Luke. But I think his actions regarding Hoth show those feelings where there all along, just buried really deep down.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Farm subsidies matter more than food aid for children

At least to Republicans in the House. To quote Matt Yglesias, this speaks to where their priorities are:

A spending bill to fund the nation’s food and farm programs would cut the Women, Infants and Children program, which offers food aid and educational support for low-income mothers and their children, by $868 million, or 13 percent. An international food assistance program that provides emergency aid and agricultural development would drop by more than $450 million, one-third of the program’s budget. The legislation passed 217-203.

Obviously some members of the House have districts where farms are very important. So I don't completely fault those representatives for this vote. But nothing other than hypocritical adherence to bullshit fiscal conservatism would allow them and especial the reps. who don't have significant farm interests in their district to vote to decrease food aid to people while keeping subsidies that fly in the face of free market principles that they are supposed to be for.

Ridiculous. I'll leave it at that since this is my last night at the beach and I don't want to think about this much longer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tim Pawlenty is a supply side wizard

Given that he is a Republican its not surprising that Pawlenty believes that tax cuts increase revenue. That belief is Republican dogma. So even if in the back of his head where logic and reason reside he believes the facts which say tax cuts don't increase revenue he can't say that in public for other Republicans to hear.

Speaking of the evidence, here is Brendan Nyhan compiling a list of Bush appointed economist rebuking Bush's own claims that tax cuts increase revenue and thus pay for themselves:
-In the 2003 Economic Report of the President, CEA wrote that "[a]lthough the economy grows in response to tax reductions... it is unlikely to grow so much that lost tax revenue is completely recovered by the higher level of economic activity."

-During his 2003 Senate confirmation hearings to replace Hubbard as CEA chair, Greg Mankiw was asked about Club for Growth president Stephen Moore's opposition to his nomination. Mankiw responded that Moore was criticizing "a passage [in Mankiw's writing] where I had raised skepticism about claims that tax cuts would generate so much employment growth as to be completely self-financing. And I remain skeptical of those claims."

-A Treasury Department analysis contained in the Office of Management and Budget's 2006 Mid-Session Review concludes that the tax cuts will not pay for themselves in even the most optimistic scenario. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities writes, Treasury found that "making the President's tax cuts permanent — and paying for the tax cuts with future reductions in spending — may ultimately increase the level of economic output (national income) in the long run by as much as 0.7 percent... Even if an increase in the level of economic output of 0.7 percent ultimately were to result from making the tax cuts permanent, the effect of this assumed additional economic growth would be to offset only a tiny fraction of the cost of the President's tax cuts."

-As stated above, CEA Chair Ed Lazear told the Washington Times in September 2006 that "We do not say that the tax cuts pay for themselves."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saying stupid things

A while back I had a post talking about words that are taboo, stuff like nigger and faggot. I pointed out that many people who use those words or defend others for using them like to say that we shouldn't ban or keep people from saying them. And I totally agreed. But I wanted to reiterate my point in light of these comments by Tracy Morgan:

“God don’t make no mistakes; all this gay stuff is bullshit,” Morgan said, adding the following about lesbians: “There is no way a woman could love and have sexual desire for another woman, that’s just a woman pretending because she hates a fucking man.”

And then it got personal: “If my son were gay he better come home and talk to me like a man and not [like a homosexual--Morgan mimicked a feminine voice] or I’d pull out a knife and stab that little N***** to death.”

That's some really crazy homophobic stuff, violent at that. Here is Chris Rock's comments about the criticism Morgan has righty gotten:

“I dont know about you, but I dont want to live in world where Tracy Morgan cant say foul inappropriate shit.”

First of all, I'm glad Rock had some time in between takes on whatever moronic Adam Sander movie he is making to give his thoughts. Secondly, no one is saying Morgan can't say foul inappropriate shit. They are saying he shouldn't say those things because they are really stupid and carrying out those words in action would be tragic and illegal.

This defense of saying people should be able to say stupid things is just people trying to cover their own ass for when they say stupid things. As I said before, if you don't want the criticism don't say stupid things.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Limbaugh's leverage

It's kind of an unwritten rule that I don't talk about people like Limbaugh. But his comments about Mitt Romney were interesting for actual political reasons. Here is what he said about Romney in regard to Romney's belief in global warming:

“Bye-bye, nomination. Another one down. We’re in the midst here of discovering that this is all a hoax. The last year has established that the whole premise of man-made global warming is a hoax, and we still have presidential candidates that want to buy into it,”

That's about as explicit it can get for an elite political commentator throwing his non-support towards a candidate. What I'm interested in is how influential will that opinion be for Republican voters. Obviously Limbaugh is a popular voice on the right. But he is popular in the context of other political commentators. In the context of the entire voting population or even the population of Republican voters he listened to by a fairly small minority of people.

But a lot of the people who vote in primaries could very well listen to him and take something like this non-endorsement of Romney seriously. On the other hand, Limbaugh could just be echoing what many in the party already believe. I guess the way to test that would be to comparing Romney's polling before and after this comment.

Its difficult to know what specific things drive people's votes, especially in a primary. When you consider things like heuristics I'm not even sure a lot of people can pinpoint exactly what is driving their vote. But in this case I think it will be interesting to see how difficult a time Romney has getting the nomination considering he is disliked by some conservative elite and he is a well known name who seems to have many electable qualities. My guess would be that Limbaugh's opinion will not carry much weight with primary voters. And if there is some effect on Romney it will be because voters find out about his positions on issues. They won't just follow Limbaugh simply because he tells them to.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

South Park

*Spoilers for tonight's episode ahead*

The newest episode of South Park was funny, as usual. But it was also kind of creepy because it felt like they were doing a biography of me. The plot is that Stan turns 10 years old. At his birthday party Kyle gives him a cd of some new band that is part of the tween wave. Stan's mom takes it away and tells him he can't listen to that kind of music because it sounds like crap.

Stan's dad, Randy, listens to it to see what its like and even though it sounds like crap (its literally a bunch of fart sounds) he says he likes it just so he can appear to be young. Stan finally gets to listen to it and to his surprise it sounds like crap to him too. As the episode goes on Stan finds that a lot of the stuff he used to like sounds or even looks like crap. For example, he goes to the movies with the gang and he says all of the previews look like crap.

I do the exact same thing at movies. And while I am cynical, I'm not quite as cynical as they made Stan out to be. I just thought it was really funny that they showed Stan thinking the same things that I think are shit are shit. I'm pretty sure that the first time I saw the preview for the new Kevin James movie where he plays a zookeeper I used the world shit to describe it.

I'll be interested to see what they do with Stan because they left the end of the episode a bit vague as to what will happen in the future. I also wonder if Matt and Trey were trying to tell us that they feel like Stan does. I'd guess that like me they feel that way on some level. Otherwise I'm not sure how they could do the type of stuff they do on their show.

Does the sports media have a long term memory?

Lebron James has been getting blasted today for his poor performance last night. And yeah, it was a poor performance. He let Wade take control of the offense early on. And because of that he didn't look for his shot (only 11 attempts all game, 1 in the 4th). But despite that he should have been more aggressive in the 4th when the game was close.

Much of the sports media has been killing him for that game though. And now they are using it as another example that he isn't "clutch", a "closer", a winner, etc. Apparently they have completely forgotten what he has done in the rest of this very playoffs. What did he not do in the series against the Celtics and the Bulls? He was very good in those series, even during the 4th quarter that the media overemphasizes.

That stuff happened mere weeks ago. Yet they act like it never happened. This shows that not only do they just create stories for them to talk about. They buy into thinking those stories matter and the convince themselves that the questions or critiques they bring up are true. This is a similar thing to what goes on in the political media with an issue like the deficit. But in reality the deficit and what Lebron James did in the 4th quarter last night are just one small piece of the puzzle that don't deserve as much attention as they get.

For those of you in the media, you don't have to make up this stuff or follow the herd in reporting on and talking about it just to get viewers. There is plenty of other stuff to talk about. Here is a novel idea. Try actually breaking down what happened on the court instead of having a guy completely speculate about what is going on in these player's heads.

Rand Paul's foreign policy speech

I mentioned in my AT&T/T-Mobile merger post that I agree with libertarians on some things, mainly foreign policy. And I've spent many other posts bashing Rand Paul for the crazy stuff he tends to say. Well its time for me to give Paul some credit to sticking to his ideological values. Here is ThinkProgress' recap of his speech.

And here are the highlights that I find encouraging. On Afghanistan:

I think after ten years there needs to be much, much more and there needs to be a winding down of the war. I would hope the death of Bin Laden would accelerate that.

He is being pretty cautious with his comments there. But he seems to be leaning towards withdrawing from Afghanistan. I am definitely on board with that. It just doesn't seem to be in our interest to fight terrorism and try to build their democracy in the manner we continue to implement. We can fight terrorism without an occupying army, probably more efficiently without it actually. And democracy building is very difficult. In the end the people of Afghanistan have to take charge in that effort.

On Iran:

In my mind, as a member of Congress, I’m reluctant to go to war. [...] I’d much rather send some of your professors around the world than I would our soldiers, if at all possible. Even in Iran, does anybody want to go to Iran? Iran has a large undercurrent of people who like the West. They like our music, our culture, our literature, and so I think we can influence people in those ways. I’d rather do that than go to war with Iran. That doesn’t mean we never go to war, but we should be reluctant.

I understand why he has to appear to be straddling the line. The Republican party is so set in the belief that war is the correct and first response to any problem. And he is a Senator from Kentucky after all. But again I think he is leaning towards the correct side.

Paul's reasoning probably doesn't completely line up with mine. He is very much concerned with vague Constitutional issues in regard to how to use the military in foreign disputes. Whereas I'm more concerned with the effects the use of our military will have on the people we are using it on and for. But credit for Paul making a speech without saying the kind of crazy stuff I usually like to bash him for.

The potential consequences of 2012

Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty announced his economic plans today. It was pretty typical Republican policy. What is striking about his plan is his preference for taxes. And coincidentally, it was released on the ten year anniversary of the Bush tax cuts. Ezra Klein has a great rundown of both those tax cuts and Pawlenty's plan. Here is the comparison of employment and GDP under Bush and Clinton:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The media and its creations

I'm watching Sportscenter right now. There is nothing else on and I'm too lazy to look through my dvd collection to find a show to rewatch (I finished Angel for the second time, great show). During their coverage of the NBA finals they talked about Chris Bosh's shot that put the Heat up in the final seconds of game three. And that fed into them talking about him and Lebron "closing".

This idea that a player or players close a game is a fairly new thing to me. For the past decade or so the sports media has been obsessed with the idea of clutch in every sport. I think the concept of clutch is a vastly overrated and overemphasized idea that the media likes because it gives them something extra to talk about. I think the same thing has happened with closer and closing games. Its basically the same thing as clutch. Its either securing a win by not blowing a lead or coming back to win from a deficit. Its just a part of every game in every sport. How you close a game is only very slightly more important than how you open it.

So I don't see much use in using these terms and creating these narratives about players like Lebron (his is whether he is a closer or not) other than to drum up bullshit based on extremely small sample sizes to make stories and give people like Skip Bayless and radio hosts something to talk about. And specifically about the Heat, it doesn't really matter since they are winning. The only way the coverage would garner the attention they give the narrative they push was if they were constantly blowing huge leads late in the game and someone like Lebron was playing unbelievably bad. None of that is happening. So the stories are wasteful fillers.

The same thing happens on the political front. The political media loves to create bullshit stories of their own so that they can increase page views, ratings, and give their moronic radio hosts and tv pundits something to talk about other than the important shit they don't really know enough about to speak intelligently about. This week has provided two good examples: the Anthony Weiner and Palin stories.

Monday, June 6, 2011

More on Christianity and Conservatism

Last week I had a post talking about how those two things shouldn't coexist. Today Andrew Sullivan has a good in depth post on that very point. He even provides some background as to why he thinks this is now the central question of our time:

The relationship between religion and politics is, to my mind, the central question of our time. As the false totalisms of the twentieth century - communism, fascism, Nazism - have been revealed as oppressive, murderous lies, insecure and inadequate human beings in need of totalist solutions to the human dilemma have returned to religion. But more accurately, they have returned to fundamentalism, because only fundamentalism, with its absolute certainty and literal precision and binding, unquestionable authority, can assuage the anxieties of a world dislocated from tradition, up-ended by capitalism, globalized to the point of cultural panic.

What we are seeing on the Republican right at the moment, it seems to me, is an extension of this response to anxiety. The new orthodoxy is fundamentalist Americanism. This is not regular American exceptionalism of the kind that the president adheres to: a belief that this miraculous new world has opened up vistas of democratic opportunity to the rest of the planet, that its inspired constitution has enabled stability and freedom in equal measure, that it played an indispensable role in keeping freedom alive during some dark, dark times, and that its core idea - government by, for and of the people - is universalist in nature. No, the Americanism now heard on the right is that America was uniquely founded on Christianity, that America is therefore a chosen instrument of divine Providence, and that this moral superiority is so profound that indicting America on any prudential, moral or political grounds is un-American or, if it comes from abroad, evil.

As Andrew points out, its not all that unique to the US. Nationalism and religious fundamentalism tend to go hand in hand across the world. But in a very rich country like the US you would think people very devoted to Christianity would be more willing to help the poor than people in a very poor country. I guess that just speaks to the relative nature of things.

Or it speaks to how people can ignore what Christianity teaches in order to live in a modern, rich country like the US. Because if this supposedly Christian nation actually followed what Jesus taught we would no longer be the richest and most powerful country in the world. People like their houses, cars, tvs, computers, and fast food too much to act too much like Jesus.

Friday, June 3, 2011

What took so long?

Its about damn time:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), the fifth- biggest U.S. bank by assets, was subpoenaed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for information on the firm’s activities leading into the credit crisis, two people familiar with the matter said.

The subpoena relates to the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report on Wall Street’s role in the collapse of the financial markets, which accused New York- based Goldman Sachs of misleading buyers of mortgage-linked investments, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the inquiry isn’t public.

The article goes on to say that it doesn't expect the company to be criminally prosecuted. And that's fine unless something is found that shows criminal wrongdoing. But this should have been done a while ago just for the sake of getting as much information about the crisis as we could. Given the bailout we gave them I think we are entitled to know what they knew.

Rationality in action

This post from ThinkProgress got me thinking about the assumption of rationality that many political scientists make when explaining the actions of politicians.

The background is that House majority leader Eric Cantor said that funding to help out places hit by tornados should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. I haven't heard that about any other natural disaster. So it struck me as odd that Cantor would say that. His reasoning was even more odd because he compared the federal gov't to a family and said that the gov't, like a family, doesn't have infinite resources and thus can't just spend a bunch of money to solve the problem the tornados caused. Apparently Cantor doesn't understand that the federal gov't can in fact print all the money it wants. And the amount needed for natural disaster relief will probably not send inflation (which is already pretty low) spiraling to unforeseen heights.

I'm not completely sure how rational Cantor's comments are. And by rational I mean taking the most efficient action that will allow you to achieve a set goal, in politicians' cases that mostly means getting reelected. My guess though is that he is a high profile conservative who has to tow the line on conservative fiscal policy. I just wasn't sure until now that position involved offsetting natural disaster relief spending.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The argument against AT&T/T-Mobile merger

I spend a lot of time criticizing libertarians when they make crazy arguments. Rand Paul has a particular habit of doing that. But there are plenty of smart libertarians out there not making crazy arguments. Most of the time I'm going to agree with them on civil liberties. Its when the topic is economics that I'm going to disagree with them the most.

But on this topic libertarian Timothy Lee makes a classical liberal (which in modern terms can be either liberal or libertarian) argument against a big merger. First he lays out the Lockean view of property rights:

The legitimacy of a property rights system depends on it being open to everyone. True, we’ll never have a society in which everyone is a landholder. But our system of land ownership gives everyone the opportunity to purchase land at market rates. And the diversity of land titles means that those who don’t own themselves have many landlords from which to choose.

That's a true free market. Everyone is able to participate. Thus the consumers can influence the market. And producers or potential producers can influence each other. Here is Lee describing why the cell phone market is not like the land or housing market:

Spectrum is different. If I want to use the electromagnetic spectrum in a novel way, at power levels above those allowed by the unlicensed bands, I need to buy (or more likely rent) spectrum from someone. And in the contemporary American market, there are only a handful of firms to choose from. These firms are vertically integrated and place tight restrictions on what kinds of signals can be transmitted.

In other words, there is not “enough, and as good” spectrum “left in common for others” to use for their own purposes. A handful of parties have claimed for themselves all the available spectrum and tightly constrain how it’s used.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Yglesias on Lebron

Last week I talked about the Miami Heat advancing to the NBA Finals and the decision of Lebron (plus Wade and Bosh) being largely vindicated. I also mentioned that I didn't fault or bash Lebron for making the decision to leave Cleveland to play in Miami.

Today Matt Yglesias (who you should be reading) points out a few other factors that make Lebron's decision all the more justifiable:

What we’re looking at, essentially, is the case of King James Versus The Cartel. The NBA’s maximum salary rules prevent stellar players like James from earning a market wage. Consequently, LeBron was underpaid in Cleveland, is underpaid in Miami, and would have been underpaid in New York or Chicago. What’s more, the NBA’s draft rules prevent stellar prospects like the 2003 version of LeBron James from choosing which firm they want to work for. If the Lakers wanted to pay him to play basketball and he wanted to play basketball in Los Angeles in exchange for money, he wasn’t allowed. Essentially the only market power a first-rate NBA player has is that (assuming he’s off his rookie deal) he’s allowed to choose which firm will underpay him. The construction of James (and to a lesser extent Chris Bosh) as a traitor to the people of Cleveland (and to a lesser extent Toronto) seeks to normatively stigmatize the exercise of even that freedom. A player should work, indefinitely, at a sub-market wage for whatever team happens to draft him? Why?

Great points. The NBA and other sports associations have drafts so that they can ensure some sort of competitive balance throughout the country. If they let players like Lebron or top prospects in other sports the ability to sign with any team they want out of college or high school there would likely be big imbalances in talent. More players would want to play in Miami and Los Angeles than they would Memphis or Oklahoma City.

We see this in every other job market. The best and highest paid jobs are generally going to be in big cities like NY, LA, and the such. Despite our government's bias towards rural development a lot of people like to like in big cities. Like Lebron, the most talented lawyers, doctors, bankers, etc. want to live in the big cities. As Yglesias says, we don't bash those professionals for moving to those cities. So we shouldn't bash athletes who do it either.

Free speech and gun rights

Glenn Greenwald has a nice rundown of why ThinkProgress was right to grill Rand Paul for saying that we should put people who give and attend radical speeches in jail. You should definitely read the whole thing in which he provides the Supreme Court's relevant decisions on radical speech (more specifically, violent speech) and how the Obama administration is trying to violate citizen's rights.

I wanted to highlight Glenn's argument for why the speech in question should be protected:

This is not an academic question. The right at stake here is absolutely vital. It is crucial to protect and preserve the right to argue that a government has become so tyrannical or dangerous that violence is justified against it. That, after all, was the argument on which the American Founding was based; it is pure political speech; and criminalizing the expression of that idea poses a grave danger to free speech generally and the specific ability to organize against abusive governments. To allow the government to punish citizens -- let alone to kill them -- because their political advocacy is threatening to the government is infinitely more dangerous than whatever ideas are being targeted for punishment, even if that idea is violent jihad.

That sounds a lot like the argument for the right to bear arms. The logic is the same is it not? People need to be able to own and carry guns in order to protect against a gov't that has become so tyrannical or dangerous that violence is justified against it. The founders just got done taking that argument from theory into practical application when they decided to write the Constitution and then the Bill of Rights. Obviously this is something a conservative like Rand Paul would argue. Yet when it comes to speech made by some Muslims or basically anyone who isn't a white guy he is ready to throw people in jail. As Glenn points out, some tea party rallies would qualify as the kind of speech Paul wants to criminalize.