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Showing posts from June, 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…

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…

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 sug…

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…

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 ar…

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.

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 …

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…

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…

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 th…

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 “nondi…

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 w…

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…

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 su…

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…

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 wan…

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…

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…

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 …

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 …

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:



























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 i…

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 respon…

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 c…

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 particip…

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 t…

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…