Saturday, July 30, 2011

Obama's spending in context

Paul Krugman has a good article up on his blog that points out something to keep in mind when we talk about federal spending. I don't have much to add to this because he makes the point clearly and concisely.

The fact is that federal spending rose from 19.6% of GDP in fiscal 2007 to 23.8% of GDP in fiscal 2010. So isn’t that a huge spending spree? Well, no.

First of all, the size of a ratio depends on the denominator as well as the numerator. GDP has fallen sharply relative to the economy’s potential; here’s the ratio of real GDP to the CBO’s estimate of potential GDP:

A 6 percent fall in GDP relative to trend, all by itself, would have raised the ratio of spending to GDP from 19.6 to 20.8, or about 30 percent of the actual rise.

That still leaves a rise in spending; but most of that is safety-net programs, which spend more in hard times because more people are in distress.

So if you hear conservatives or even liberals harping on spending and they use spending as a % of GDP as their measure be sure to remember this. Yes, it shows Obama raised spending. But much of it was to help people get through the worst recession in decades. And much of the rest was to help states so they didn't have to fire public servants like cops, firefighters, and teachers. THe other part of the rise in the GDP ratio is simply the fact that GDP dropped because of the recession.

Or if you don't want to remember that just remember that Bush and a Republican congress tore though a budget surplus in no time and left a sizable deficit for Obama to start off with. And anyone who thinks Obama should have cut spending for things like safety net programs when he came into office during a deep recession is a probably hopeless ideologue who isn't worth your time. Sadly that describes at least a few Republicans in congress and many conservative pundits. Perhaps if liberals were as forceful in their beliefs as those conservatives we could have gotten a bigger stimulus and we wouldn't be cutting spending while unemployment sits at 9%.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A downside to a debt ceiling deal

Things seem to keep getting more crazy. Boehner has just attached the balanced budget amendment to his plan in an effort to get it out of the House and to the Senate where it won't pass. But even as things look worse and worse, I still think cooler heads will prevail and a deal will get passed. At this point I think that will involve Boehner cutting a deal with some Democrats in the House because it doesn't seem like the nut jobs in the GOP are willing to sign anything.

And that brings me to the problem that could result in an eventual deal. When such a deal passes the crisis will be averted and things will go back to normal. The economy will still be pretty crappy. But it won't have dived back into another recession. People will get their entitlement benefits. And those crazy Republicans who refused to sign anything will have not learned a thing.

These people like Michele Bachmann believe that we shouldn't raise the debt ceiling at all, and in not doing so nothing bad will happen. Or at least, whatever bad thing that happens is really a good thing. If a deal is passed they can go along thinking that this whole endeavor was a good thing. Or they could even think they didn't go far enough and need to fight harder to prevent raising the debt ceiling in the future. Even if we didn't get a deal and chaos broke out they probably would still not learn their lesson and instead blame it all on Obama. They are so crazy that only the word of god himself is enough to convince them they are wrong. And no matter what happens some of these people will not get that message. Just think of what it would mean for future debt ceiling votes and the country if more of these nut jobs are elected in 2012.

Rick Perry's gay marriage federalism

Rick Perry recently said that he was fine with letting states decide whether they want to allow gay marriage or not. That's an old fashioned states' rights stance. But what Perry was basically saying was that he was fine with gay marriage as long as your state was able to pass it into law. Obviously that belief is at odds with the GOP's stance on gay marriage. They don't think gay marriage should happen anywhere. Hence this new statement from Perry:

"I probably needed to add a few words after that 'it's fine with me' and that it's fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue," he said. "Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me. My stance hasn't changed."

Perry said he supported changing the Constitution in order to ban gay marriage, a position that he characterized as supportive of states' rights even as it would overrule New York's own decision on the matter.

So he still opposes gay marriage, but his dedication to the idea of states' rights trumps his opposition to gay marriage. But even though he thinks states have sovereign rights, he wants to change the constitution to say that states can't allow gay marriage. You follow that?

If you read my blog regularly you probably know that I don't like the states' rights argument. And I don't understand why so many conservatives like it either. If you value people's freeberty (Stephen Colbert's new word combining freedom and liberty), I don't see why you would be willing to take away someone's freeberty simply because a state claims it has the authority to do so. This isn't a new argument. Its why we fought a civli war, because southern states thought the 10th amendment allowed them to have slaves and the federal gov't couldn't tell them otherwise. Or to put it another way, states aren't people and people's rights are more important than a state's rights. And given that fact, a state shouldn't be able to restrict a person's rights (up to a certain point of course).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sarah Palin thinks Reagan's budget ideas were foreign and the antithesis of America prosperity

Here is what she said about Obama. If you don't want to listen to her talk here is a summary of what she says about Obama.

Blasting the White House and liberals for being “so addicted to that OPM, other people’s money,” Palin declared that Obama “is not capable of giving the right message” to the American people. Though a majority of Americans side with Obama’s position, Fox asked Palin why he seems so disconnected from the public. Palin harped on the all-too-familiar right-wing refrain that American ideals “seem[] to be foreign to our President” because of “his background. She added, “His ideas are the antithesis of those things that created the prosperity in America.”

So because Obama doesn't believe in balancing the budget right now, just like households and businesses do (which isn't true), his ideas are foreign and he doesn't accept those ideas that made America prosperous. Well, Reagan didn't balance the budget ever. So I guess Reagan didn't accept these ideas that made America prosperous either.

I'm being sarcastic, of course, to highlight how dumb these comments from Palin are. She talks about Obama and the gov't living within its means without even beginning to explain what she means by that. Were Reagan and W. Bush living within their means when they signed off on budget deals that added to and continued deficits for their entire presidencies? Regardless of the answer to that question, she obviously wouldn't say that either of those men couldn't embrace American ideals and that whatever their ideals were had to be foreign and not in support of American prosperity.

In other words, she is spouting off complete bullshit simply because Obama is a Democrat. I know this isn't shocking news. But I felt the need to point it out because apparently the debt ceiling talks are making me irritated and I am finding it harder and harder to resist calling people out on their bullshit.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Human rights and religion

The Dish linked to this fascinating column about human rights and religion's role in their foundation. Here is Anat Biletzki arguing that god and religion are not necessary foundations for human rights:

I dare say that religion, even when indirectly in the service of human rights, is not really working for human rights. Although there is recognition of the human as sacred, it is not the concept of rights that propels the religious person. For him, the human status of sacredness draws from divine creation and directive, from man (and woman) having been created in God’s image, and therefore has nothing to do with a human right. As Jack Donnelly says in “Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice,” “ ‘Traditional’ societies…typically have had elaborate systems of duties…conceptions of justice, political legitimacy, and human flourishing that sought to realize human dignity, flourishing, or well-being entirely independent of human rights. These institutions and practices are alternative to, rather than different formulations of, human rights”.

The problem arises not when we act together, but rather when we don’t. Or put differently, when we act together, the problem stays in the realm of theory, providing fodder for the philosophical game of human rights. It is when we disagree — about abortion, about capital punishment, about settling occupied lands — that the religious authority must vacate the arena of human rights. This is not to say that all religious people hold the same views on these issues or that secular persons are always in agreement (although opinion polls, for whatever they are worth, point to far more unity of thought on the religious side). It is rather that an internal, secular debate on issues that pertain to human rights is structurally and essentially different from the debate between the two camps. In the latter, the authority that is conscripted to “command” us on the religious side is God, while on the secular side it is the human, with her claim to reason, her proclivity to emotion, and her capacity for compassion. In a sense, that is no commandment at all. It is a turn to the human, and a (perhaps axiomatic, perhaps even dogmatic) posit of human dignity, that turns the engine of human rights, leaving us open to discussion, disagreement, and questioning without ever deserting that first posit. The parallel turn to God puts our actions under his command; if he commands a violation of human rights, then so be it. There is no meaning to human rights under divine commandment. A deep acceptance of divine authority — and that is what true religion demands — entails a renunciation of human rights if God so wills. Had God’s angel failed to call out — “Abraham! Abraham!” — Abraham would have slain Isaac.

I was planning on writing a long reaction in which I flesh out the foundation of what I conceive of as human rights. But my head hurts. So I'll just try and condense what Biletzki states by saying that I don't think religion or god are good foundations to human rights because we don't have a single, direct translation regarding what god says should be human rights. And while religions may have some basic overlap, their foundations for rights all go back to what they say god says.

Or to be even more concise, there is no god and thus human rights can't be grounded in something that doesn't exist.

The simple solution to smaller deficits

Stop gutting revenue by enacting very regressive tax cuts. Let's look at the numbers in chart form since I think it helps me to visualize things.

The Bush tax cuts are bigger than everything Obama has done to add to the deficit. So if Republicans didn't live in tax fantasy land and Democrats had the guts to stop extending them we wouldn't have such large deficits and thus we probably wouldn't be having to go through this debt ceiling nonsense. Even though I will probably hate whatever deal gets passed, I'll be happy when these negotiations are over. Tolerating this much bullshit for this long is not healthy.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Conservative craziness

Conor Friedersdorf is a libertarian (a very smart one) who does one of those jobs not many have the stomach for. He listens to right wing talk radio and keeps tabs on the crazy stuff that is consistently said. In this piece, he responds to David Brooks' column from a while back in which he stood in awe as Republicans passed on incredible deals proposed by Obama to raise the debt ceiling. Here are a few examples of what he has heard about the debt ceiling:

Here's Rush Limbaugh, telling his listeners that all the dire warnings are an old Ivy League prank the elites are playing on the people:

It hits you upside the head, a cold ice shower. You realize what suckers they think we are. You realize the patterns -- the playbooks, the tactics, the scare tactics, the fear-mongering, crisis mongering, all of this -- are written down. It's taught. This is not instinctive. This stuff, I guess, is what these people learn at Harvard and Yale and the Kennedy School of Government, wherever else they go to get educated or how they're mentored.

I didn't go to Harvard or Yale. But I can say that I wasn't taught any of this, that is, this idea that you should make up phony crises in order to get what you want. This is just complete and total bullshit and he doesn't have a shred of viable evidence to back this up. I wonder if he actually believes this shit. Here is the dumbest thing I've heard about this issue yet. I'll give you two guesses who says it:

HANNITY: What would be acceptable -- because you're a conservative, you're well known in the Tea Party, you're a Tea Party leader. I'm a conservative, a registered conservative. I would prefer cut, cap and balance. But I mean cut now, not later, not 12 years down the road. If you can't get that through, the country can't default. I think that's a reality you agree with, is that correct?

PALIN: Sure. We cannot default, but we have to -- we cannot afford to retreat right now, either. Now is not the time to retreat.


PALIN: This is the time to reload. And we reload with reality by giving facts and numbers to the American public so that those of us across the U.S. can start chiming in and letting our representatives know that we will not capitulate, we will not hand over more power, which I believe is unconstitutional, to President Obama to further manipulate our economy.

We can't default, but we also can't agree to any deal the president is willing to sign, deals that completely go against what liberals want. And she doesn't even explain what she thinks is unconstitutional. She is just rambling, and after being asked a softball and leading question. Just fucking dumb.

I don't think its too much of a stretch to say that if these people weren't spouting off this ridiculous bullshit fewer conservatives would believe crazy shit, and thus fewer people in Congress would be pushing for that crazy shit. For the sake of the country, we need conservatives listening to people like Friedersdorf, Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett, and David Frum instead of complete morons like Limbaugh and Palin. But as long as confirmation bias remains such a strong impulse on the right I'm not sure what can be done.

I wonder what things would look like if there was the liberal equivalent of this conservative craziness and there was a large amount of liberals who were demanding no cuts whatsoever and wouldn't support anything but a clean bill to increase the debt ceiling.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What constitutional conservatism really looks like

I don't have a link for this because I saw it on the Colbert Report. Stephen was talking about all of the voting fraud accusations and voter id laws that are being passed in order to supposedly prevent these "frauds". He played a clip of some guy who founded the tea part nation. Basically what the guy said was only people who own property should be able to vote because those people have more of a vested interest in the gov't.

I'll give you a moment to process that.

Ok then. How fucking ridiculous is that? I'll give him points for not being a hypocrite and actually sticking to wanting to do what the founders did. But that just highlights how ridiculous the whole notion of constitutional conservatism and blind worship of the founders is. I don't think I need to flesh out the problems with his statement at length. Hopefully you understand how freaking insane this guy is. I just want to point to the last part of it. Chances are that if you don't own property, you have a more vested interest in what the gov't does than the typical American family. The fact that this guy has the audacity to propose this and then try to justify it by saying people who don't own stuff don't have a vested interest in public policy tells you all you need to know about the tea party.

Republicans favor redistribution of wealth

I was reading a Matt Yglesias post on health care in which he mentioned Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare. Matt says that he doesn't think that in 20 years most people are going to look back and say, that Ryan plan would have been a good idea. That's because a lot of people support providing health care to old people.

Mentioning the Ryan plan got me thinking about what it entails, which is basically just giving old people some money that they have to spend on health care. And the total amount of money can't rise above a certain % that is tied to inflation. Think about that in basic terms. Ryan and the Republicans that support that plan want to take taxpayer money and just give it to old people, but they can only spend it on health insurance.

Now, obviously they wouldn't be in favor of giving these people money if they didn't think they needed it, meaning these people don't have a lot of money. And since so much of the wealth in concentrated in such a small proportion of people, a big chunk of total revenue comes from the wealthy. What Republicans are basically doing is taking parts of that money the wealthy are paying and giving it to old people so that they can purchase a valuable commodity, health insurance. That sounds like what Republicans like to accuse Democrats of doing when they use taxpayer money to provide valuable commodities to people. The only difference I see is that when Democrats give people money they don't place such stringent limits as to how they can use the money. I guess one party's redistribution of wealth is another party's fiscally responsible way to save Medicare.

Obama's chief terrorism advisor wrong about drone attacks

The aways fantastic Glenn Greenwald has a post up which seems to show that this guy was either very uninformed or just flat out lied about how careful they have been using drone attacks:

In late June, President Obama's chief Terrorism adviser, John Brennan, made an extraordinary claim about drone attacks in Pakistan: "in the last year, 'there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we've been able to develop." He added: "if there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger." The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism had heard similar claims from Obama officials over the past several months, and thus set out to examine the relevant evidence to determine if those claims are true.

Last night, they issued the findings of their study which, simply put, definitively establish that the administration's claim about civilian deaths is patently false. Contrary to Brennan's public assertions, "a detailed examination by the Bureau of 116 CIA 'secret' drone strikes in Pakistan since August 2010 has uncovered at least 10 individual attacks in which 45 or more civilians appear to have died." That count -- which includes numerous children -- covers only the civilian deaths which the Bureau could definitively establish by identifying the victims by name. Given how conservative their methodology was, these findings almost certainly under-count, probably dramatically, the number of civilian deaths at U.S. hands during the period about which Brennan made his claim: "at least 15 additional strikes warrant urgent investigation, with many more civilian deaths possible."

Of course, the Obama administration says its information is accurate and Brennan was correct. But shockingly, the ACLU can't obtain that information:

The trouble is that United States refuses to share its information -- even basic information -- with the public. Indeed, it is absurd that senior government officials would claim that there have been no civilian casualties in drone strikes in Pakistan, and at the same time refuse to confirm or deny the existence of civilian casualty data in response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act request. This kind of selective disclosure not only deprives the public of basic information about the human cost of the government's actions, but it also undermines the credibility of the government's statements. . . .

This kind of stuff is the complete opposite of what Obama campaigned on. If I knew a primary challenge wouldn't completely screw a Democrat's chance to win in 2012 I'd be more than willing to run someone against him.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Inflation expectations

Any time I discuss the economy with conservatives I almost invariably hear that uncertainty is a problem, though pretty much only when Democrats have power. Its not that I think uncertainty isn't a problem. But I don't see why uncertainty would change much depending on which party is in power. Nor do I see an easy way to measure uncertainty and then draw a causal line from those feelings to what the president or congress is doing with economic policy.

So most of the time I think its just a crutch that conservatives trot out when they can't explain things in a supply side manner. Along the uncertainty lines, you will often hear concerns about inflation. The Ron Paul types like to say that this whole paper money thing is a big hoax that is stealing people's money and thus we should get back on the gold standard. And in a broader context I think conservatives don't like the idea of the gov't printing money because they hate the gov't except when its charged with protecting their lives (which is odd because that job involves the most trust).

Unlike the vague notion of uncertainty, inflation can be more easily measured. Matt Yglesias has been pointing out for years that inflation is low and that the Fed could be increasing it in order to help bring down unemployment. He has even quoted Ben Bernanke as saying such an increase in inflation would do such a thing. Today Matt linked to this article by the Cleveland Fed showing inflation expectations. Here is the graph:

As you can see inflation is expected to be low, especially compared to other times of good economic growth. Reagan ran consistently higher inflation, and deficits on top of that. So as Matt points out, there doesn't seem to be any good reasons to continue to keep inflation so low until the economy gets better. Even the Wall Street Journal had an article (paywalled) up last night that said the majority of economists they polled though the economy was suffering from lack of demand.

But instead of addressing these problems by using the tools we have available the gov't is focused on doing something, massively cutting spending, which could have a negative impact on the economy. Maybe Obama can offset some of the spending years down the road and get some stimulus now. But Republicans don't really have an incentive to do that. And many of them believe that not raising the debt ceiling wouldn't be a problem. The whole situation doesn't make sense outside of purely political reasons. Even then I'm not sure it makes a ton of sense. And all the while the rest of us pay the price with our lowly inflated money.

BSG and torture

I'm eight episodes into the first season of Battlestar Galactica and I'm really enjoying it. They raise so many interesting questions and address many of them quickly and in a satisfying manner. The latest problem the humans faced was a cylon one of the ships captured.

This cylon claimed that he planted a nuclear warhead on one of the ships. Starbuck goes to interrogate the cylon and almost inevitably, torture ensues. A few questions come about in this situation. Is it wrong to torture the cylon? If you read this blog you have probably gathered that I think torture is wrong. But a cylon isn't a human being, right? It looks like a man, bleeds and sweats like one. It even believes it has a soul.

Its hard to answer this given that we don't know if the cylon has a soul. But as a metaphor I think the torture sequence is supposed to make us realize that even in the real world when we are confronted with some of the most evil people on earth, we are still dealing with human beings who have rights. And even though its a cylon, I still felt sympathy for the torture it was enduring.

The other interesting issue this episode raised was the issue of the effectiveness of torture. At the beginning of the torture, Starbuck mentions that they had reached the point where a human being would be giving false information. Kudos to the writers for that accurate portrayal of torture. This shows that Starbuck is motivated more by a desire to punish than to actually get accurate information. But even for Starbuck we see her breaking down and becoming sympathetic the longer the torture goes, and of course as they learn nothing new about the nuke.

Its only when the president visits the interrogation that the torture stops and she starts asking him questions herself that good information was given. It turns out that the cylon never planted a nuke. It really just wanted to talk to to Starbuck and the president. That highlights the other issue with torture, that not doing is also about protecting the innocent. Even the Bush administration released people they took to Guantanamo Bay because they turned out to be innocent. And Obama won't release some innocents still there because they were tortured.

The last thing I want to mention is how quickly feelings turn during this episode. Starbuck starts out as the typical hard ass she is (which is really sexy and awesomely portrayed by Katie Sackoff). She starts to sympathize with the cylon the longer the torture goes on. The president comes in and stops the torture and consoles the cylon. But then she orders it be killed, which Starbuck protests. And the last scene is Starbuck praying to the gods that the cylon said she prayed to, asking that if it had a soul they protect it. The difficult circumstances force the non-military and military to constantly deal with issues that call into question their previously held modes of operation and ways of thinking. And it creates really compelling drama.

More deficit nonsense

Bruce Bartlett has the details on the balanced budget amendment Republicans in the House are about to try and pass:

Assuming such a proposition is a good idea, how practical is it? For one thing, the term “economic output” in not defined in the committee report. Presumably, it means gross domestic product. But this is not a term defined in law; nor could it be. GDP figures are constantly being revised as new data become available and economists change their concept of what it means.

Another problem is that Congress cannot know what GDP will be in the coming fiscal year and it must necessarily pass its appropriations bills before the fiscal year begins. This means, as a practical matter, that Congress must base its spending on forecasts of GDP, which are often wrong and sometimes by large magnitudes. And of course it is impossible to control spending on entitlements or interest on the debt on an annual basis.

So not only is it a terrible idea, they haven't even drawn it up in a practical way. But let's focus on why its a terrible idea. Under this amendment, any revenue increases would have to get 2/3 approval of Congress. In other words, tax increases would be nearly impossible. So if by some miracle Republicans actually took this amendment seriously and tried to balance the budget they would have to massively cut spending, and not just 10 years down the road, right now. And of course, that entails big cuts to entitlements, if not outright abolishment of things like medicare, medicaid and social security.

That's the end game of this amendment, which luckily won't pass the Senate. If they found a way to make the mechanisms work, which as Bartlett points out, would be difficult, they would basically be outlawing tax increases and entitlements. And they want to do this while unemployment is high and the economy is only very slowly growing. Its just an amazing confluence of completely unnecessary and completely ideological nonsense from a party that claims to care about jobs.

I am now exhausted from talking about the deficit. Its bad enough I have to listen to this crap from Republicans, the same people who drove up deficits under Reagan and the second Bush. But I also have to hear it from a Democratic president and Democrats in Congress. Granted, Obama did make a decent argument about why he is focused on the deficit right now. But I still say he is too focused on it given the circumstances I mentioned above. At this point I don't have much to say other than to let your representatives know they have their priorities out of whack.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Herman Cain: religious bigot and complete moron

Here is his latest anti-Muslim crap. Chris Wallace asks him about a mosque controversy in TN:

WALLACE: But couldn’t any community then say they don’t want a mosque in our community?

CAIN: They could say that. Chris, lets go back to the fundamental issue that the people are basically saying they’re objecting to. They’re objecting to the fact Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, Sharia law. That’s the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes. The people in the community know best, and I happen to side with the people in Murfreesboro.

WALLACE: You’re saying any community, if they want to ban a mosque?

CAIN: Yes. They have a right to do that. That’s not discriminating based upon religion

He is making a false distinction in trying to say that Islam is a religion and a set of laws. Islam is the same as every other "traditional" religion. Its a moral code that says it is the word of a higher being that people are supposed to live by. And just like Christians and Jews, Muslims want at least parts of that code to be a part or all of civil law. To say that other traditional religions are just about religion is ridiculous. Cain's entire party wants Christianity to be more about practicing your religion in private. They want it completely part of public life and law.

The reason this Sharia fearmongering is ridiculous is because, as Cain points out, we have a separation of church and state in the US. The First Amendment basically guarantees that people can practice whatever religion they choose or don't choose as long as it doesn't conflict with certain laws, such as murder.

Sharia law, whatever that really entails, is not a threat because whatever crazy things it says can't conflict with our laws. Just because a Muslim is really, really orthodox and believes all non-converters to Islam should be killed doesn't mean that person would be protected under the First Amendment to go around killing people. By the same token, the federal gov't couldn't ban everyone in the country from working on the sabbath because the 10 commandments say so. We don't stone adulterers and we allow people to eat shellfish. This is how a secular nations work. And Muslims wanting to build a mosque where they live is not a threat to that. (This is the underlying problem. Cain and the GOP don't think we are a secular nation. They think we are Christian nation and anything that differs from Christianity is a threat.)

The only thing Islam, Muslims, and mosques are a threat to in the US are bigoted conservatives like Cain who can't accept lifestyles other than their own. That is so unAmerican its laughable. Well, it would be laughable if this guy wasn't running for president and if big chunks of the Republican party didn't completely agree with him. I don't often defend religion. But I will when the right for people to think and act freely is under attack as it is when Cain spouts moronic shit like this.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Comparing Harry Potter and Buffy

As I've mentioned, I'm not a Harry Potter fan. I don't really have anything against it. It just isn't quite my thing. What is my thing is Buffy. And The Dish linked to this Amanda Marcotte post arguing that Harry Potter is a "jock", which is the opposite of the "gang of misfits" story that a lot of geeky films, books, and tv shows depict.

We're used to the X-Men or Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Scooby Gang, so much so that we don't see that Harry's trajectory is the inverse of Buffy's. Buffy is a former cheerleader whose magic powers actually make her a geek and an outcast. Harry is a nobody-special who finds out that he's special, and becomes not just the star athlete and hero of his school, but an actual celebrity. Sure, there's ups and downs, but his trajectory is away from being the outcast and towards being the homecoming king. Which may not be as emotionally satisfying as "my greatness makes me an outcast", but is probably more realistic. In his world, being a badass is appreciated and he's realistically rewarded in his society for it.

I actually talked about this point before in a previous Buffy post. I pointed out that Buffy was the Cordi of her old high school (that she burned down fighting vamps). She was the pretty, popular cheerleader who was kind of shallow. When she becomes the slayer she gives all of that up and joins Willow and Xander as the outcasts that Amanda mentions.

Having only seen the last two Potter films I'm hesitant to draw too many in depth conclusions about what the series is supposed to be about. But it struck me as odd that Potter was such a popular person within his world. So popular in fact that a lot of people sacrifice themselves in order to protect him. And then it turns out that Harry had to kind of sacrifice himself in order to kill the main villain. That kind of made him less sympathetic to me. It seemed that the greater heroes were everyone else on the good side.

As for Buffy, she actually chose to be an outcast in order to perform her job as the hero better. If you remember back to the first episode, Cordi seems very willing to let her into her exclusive group. Buffy turns away from Cordi and actually seeks out Willow as a friend. Willow even asks Buffy why she would want to talk to her instead of Cordi.

I think this gets a bit overlooked because even though Buffy has to risk her life being the slayer, her high school days could have been better than they turned out. She could have been the pretty, popular cheerleader who just happened to fight evil on the side. Its not like the school would have gone crazy if most of them knew she was the slayer, as evidenced by the class protector award they gave her at prom. And that's really the only benefit Buffy gets from being the hero. Harry Potter is revered by seemingly everyone. Buffy dies a few times and only a few of her outcast friends know she did so saving the world. And she can't find a nice normal guy to date, whereas Harry gets a pretty and popular girlfriend, not to mention Emma Watson to stare at all the time.

Not to bash on Harry Potter, but breaking it down like this just shows how awesome Buffy is. The show is couched in just as magical a world as Harry Potter. But the emotional depth of the characters is just as real as any other drama. And that is why Joss Whedon has such a devoted, albeit not completely mainstream following. Perhaps that will change with The Avengers.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises teaser trailer

I went to see the last Harry Potter movie this afternoon. I'm not a fan. I just think Emma Watson is beautiful and I was bored one day last year when part one of the final film was out. I had read on Pajiba (linked to on my blog roll, my favorite movie/tv blog) that there might be a teaser trailer for The Dark Knight Rises before the next Potter movie.

So given that I had seen the first one, and with the prospect of more Emma Watson, I figured it would be worth it to see the movie if I got to see the teaser. Well thankfully Pajiba was right. I'm not going to link to anything because anything I've seen on youtube has been pulled by Warner Bros. Check out Pajiba to see if they have it.

I'll just say that they showed more than I thought they would. If you remember the first teaser for TDK, it was just the bat logo and the Joker's voice. This teaser actually showed footage from the film. Obviously they don't give anything away. It just sets up the fact that this is the last film of a trilogy and it will wrap up the story.

Even the minute or two of the teaser was exciting. I can't freaking wait for next year. I'm going to have the biggest nerdgasm of all time when I get to see two of my favorite things of all time; Batman and Joss Whedon directing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why not more tax cuts?

That's a question directed mainly at Republicans as a solution to the debt ceiling negotiations. They aren't interested in simply raising the debt ceiling like they have every time before. Now that they have some power they want something in return for raising it, mainly a lowering of the deficit.

The main solution Republicans have for reducing the deficit is reducing spending. That's fine as far as it goes. But even Republicans don't seem willing to cut enough spending to totally balance the budget. So that leaves the other part of the equation, revenue increases. Obviously they don't want to raise taxes in order to increase revenue. Their logic is that it will hurt businesses, and thus the economy (which is a fair point during the current economic climate). (Though its interesting that they don't seem challenge the idea that raising taxes would raise more revenue.)

Following their logic on tax increases, they like tax cuts because they believe it would help businesses. Not only that, Republicans also believe that tax cuts increase revenue. So as a solution to both the debt ceiling and the poor economy why not ask Obama for more tax cuts? If their theory is correct, businesses will invest the money they are saving from the cut, which will grow their business and allow them to hire more employees. That would be great for the economy. And since those tax cuts will also bring in more revenue they will also lower the deficit. According to their logic its a win-win, right?

Taxes are really low right now, as are revenues. And just a few years ago we extending the Bush tax cuts. But I'm not sure why (if Republicans believe in the economic policies they propose) they shouldn't be arguing for even more tax cuts. Not only would their constituents like it, they could use it as leverage against Obama. If they were to come out strong for more tax cuts and make their typical argument about cuts raising revenue and thus decreasing the deficit and Obama didn't go for it they could bash him at every turn for not wanting the cuts. Yet as far as I know the only thing Republicans want out of the debt ceiling deal is a lot of spending cuts and no tax increases. Is there any Republican that can explain to me why they don't want more tax cuts? What am I missing?

Obama's ridiculous idea

I missed this item as part of my post on Obama's goals in the debt ceiling talks. But multiple sources from both parties are saying that Obama floated the idea of raising the eligibility age of Medicare from 65 to 67 as a means to cut spending.

I think the idea that we have to cut spending right now is kind of dumb. Though I'm certainly not opposed to cutting unnecessary spending, like big chunks of defense spending for instance. But the idea of cutting extremely important spending, like that which goes to pay for health care for seniors, is ridiculous. More so, its completely fucking ridiculous for a Democratic president to be the one floating the idea.

Raising the eligibility age for Medicare basically completely fucks the very people who depend on it, mainly the poor and even the middle class. Health insurance is expensive enough for a healthy young person. It only gets more expensive as you get older. Plus old people can't work as much when they reach their mid 60s, thus they don't have as much money as they did when they were younger. So they have less assets available to spend on health insurance. Medicare is so important because it provides fairly cheap (especially compared to private plans) health care to these people.

Not only would you be forcing seniors to work longer and spend more of their depreciating assets on expensive private health insurance by extending the Medicare age, you would also be screwing poorer people because their life expectancy is lower than middle class and rich people's. This is the same reason many liberals don't want to raise the social security age. Poor people would be getting less benefits despite the fact that they are the ones that need it the most. Not to mention that all the while the rich get their tax cuts and the benefits of entitlement programs.

I hope this idea has only been "floated" and not given more than half a second of serious consideration. If Obama and Democrats in Congress actually passed this instead of coming up with some of the numerous other options available that would either cut spending, increase revenue, or do both at the same time, I would be extremely pissed off and insist on a primary challenge for Obama in 2012. Even if nothing comes of this idea its still ridiculous it ever came from a Democrat.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Obama's goals in the debt ceiling talks

I've talked a lot about the Republican goals. Here is Matt Yglesias on Obama's:

Suddenly it became clear that we’re not looking at an administration strategy to get an increase in the debt ceiling, with the negotiations over the long-term fiscal balance being a means to an end. We’re looking at an administration strategy to get a bipartisan deal over long-term fiscal balance. It’s a strategy whose purpose is to try to change the dynamic in which we alternate between Democrats-only balanced deficit reduction bills (like the 1993 Clinton budget) and GOP-led deficit increasing bills (like the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts). It’s the debt ceiling that’s a means to an end. And you can see that the key Democratic bargaining position here is to insist on revenue increases rather than to try to minimize spending cuts.

I hadn't really thought too much about why Obama was so willing to go for a huge deficit reduction bill. And I think this analysis makes sense. I just want to add that I think this also makes sense in relation to the 2012 election. By fighting about deficit reductions now, you avoid it becoming an issue and a distraction in a year from now. You also take away a big criticism of the Obama administration's first term, which is that they spent a ton of money to try and lessen the impact of the recession. Not only was that not very successful, it added a lot to the deficit. Republicans will still make that criticism (and be complete hypocrites by doing so). But Obama would have a response.

If a deal gets passed with huge spending cuts Obama can point to a clear effort to try and get the deficit under control. That's not a bad idea, because for some reason, a lot of people say they care about the deficit. Its probably not crazy to think that a few undecideds make that issue a top priority. Of course, what will really matter is the growth of the economy in a year from now up the the election. And while I don't think this debt ceiling deal with help with that growth its at least one less thing Obama will have to worry about.

Plus, as I've mentioned before, Obama seems to genuinely believe that reducing the deficit is a good thing. I'm not sure if that belief comes more from a certain economic policy or from an electoral policy. But I'm pretty sure this is being done at least in part by looking forward to 2012.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Its going to be a long wait

for The Dark Knight Rises

Derek Jeter's place among Yankee greats

Jeter got his 3000th hit. That's a great accomplishment because you have to be at least a good hitter and you have be durable. Much of durability is luck. But I'll still give a little credit there. And Jeter is a very good hitter.

But I have long felt Jeter is overrated because he plays in NY, plays SS on a consistently good to great team, and is a good looking guy. As I said, he is a very good hitter. But I don't think he is as great a hitter as is advertised because he isn't a complete hitter. He doesn't hit for enough power to be considered an all time great IMO. He is a mediocre fielder. And the aura around him as the captain and a leader who is clutch is mostly overblown hype that masks the fact that he was only one very good player on teams filled with other good to very good players.

I want to compare him to Joe DiMaggio in order to put him in some context. I chose DiMaggio because Skip Bayless put Jeter above him in his all time Yankees list. And without even looking at their stats I thought that was a bit ridiculous. Well, I've looked at their stats and my belief has been confirmed. Here are Jeter's relevant stats:

.313 BA, .383 OBP, .449 SLG, .832 OPS, 719 RAR, 70.5 WAR

His batting average and on base percentage are very good, which is why he hits at the top of the lineup. His slugging percentage is probably about average. And because of his SLG his OPS is good but not great. His offensive WAR is great, 25th all time. But as I mentioned, his defense hurt him and thus his overall wins probability added ranks 83rd. So all in all, a great player, but not quite the legend he is made out to be. Probably helped a lot by playing a position in SS that doesn't have a lot of great hitters. Let's compare this to DiMaggio:

.325 BA, .398 OBP, .579 SLG, .977 OPS, 839 RAR, 83.6 WAR

Batting average and on base percentage are better than Jeter's (DiMaggio walked 421 more times than he struck out, unreal). His SLG is considerably higher than Jeter's, and thus so is his OPS. You could argue that DiMaggio played a less important position than Jeter, which was CF and the outfield in general. But the stats suggest he was a better than average defensive outfielder. So while Jeter is playing the more difficult and more important position, his defense probably wasn't significantly better than the average SS. So I'd argue their defenses are about a wash. And DiMaggio gets on base more than Jeter and hits for more power.

Its not a bad thing to be not as good as Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio is rightfully an all time great. Regardless, Jeter is a very good player who should be in the HOF one day. I just wanted to point out the fact that Jeter is not the player he is made out to be by the media and nearly all of fandom. He hits for a very good average and gets on base at a very good rate. He also fucks a lot of hot chicks and gets to play alongside a bunch of other good players in the biggest market in the country. But he doesn't hit for much power and is not a great defender. And in order to be as high as many people think he should be on the list of the greatest Yankees you need to do all of that.

The god...the HEAT!

To quote one of my favorite female characters of all time, Elaine Benes. My iphone says it is 98 degrees here in Memphis. And if you've ever been to Memphis during the summer, you know that the temperature doesn't lie. In fact, it often underestimates how insanely freaking hot it gets here.

You've probably heard the distinctions dry heat and wet heat. Dry heat is most often associated with the desert, in places like Arizona and states in the southwest of the US. I've never been west of Dallas. So I can't really compare that heat to the heat here. But I've heard its not as bad, and that seems to be evidenced by the huge populations of southern California.

I can tell you about wet heat. I think it gets the connotation of wet because it doesn't take long for you to start sweating profusely once you go outside. On a day like today, when you open the door you immediately feel a wave of hot air hit you. Its exactly like when you open a heated oven. And as you go outside you continue to feel the weight of the hot air. Its like its so heavy that your pores have to work overtime, and thus you sweat a lot.

I don't have much to say about this politically. I guess I'd just highlight that this is another reason we should care about the poor. My family freaks out when the temperature in their houses goes above 75. For people without AC this heat could actually be life threatening. And I'd be surprised if outdoor work didn't suffer some drop in efficiency because of the heat. So be careful and try to stay out of it for too long.

Would more moderates create more bold solutions?

Jonathan Rauch (among others) is blogging for The Dish while Andrew Sullivan is on vacation and he is frustrated with the debt ceiling talks. The news has been that Boehner and Obama had a $4 trillion dollar spending cut deal in place, which also apparently raised revenue somehow. But the Republicans in the House shot it down because they don't want revenue increases. Here is Rauch on what to make of this spectacle so far:

I think blame rests primarily with the Republican side, because I think that a critical mass of congressional Democrats would have squawked and squirmed but would, in the end, have voted for a grand bargain—whereas Tea Partyized Republicans just would not. But let's not kid ourselves: what we're seeing here is a result of the systematic underrepresentation of moderates in both parties, because moderates are the constituency for a hostage trade: they would rather solve the problem than stay pure and score political points. If you want bold solutions, vote for the least radical candidate in your party's congressional primary next year.

I with agree with the blame part. Cutting $4 trillion from the budget is a win for Republicans, especially since defense probably won't be significantly cut. And that probably gets a few Democratic votes in the House and passes the Senate with a majority of Democrats voting for it. So it seems likely the reason a deal hasn't been reached is that Republicans don't want revenue increases.

The part I don't quite agree with is the notion that the reason we have this ridiculous negotiation going on because there aren't enough moderates in Congress or presumably in the White House. And that if we had more moderates we would get more bold solutions, or that bold solutions would be a good thing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Update on Republican goals in debt ceiling talks

It appears that John Boehner wants to bring the debt ceiling talks regarding spending cuts from $4 trillion to $2 trillion. If you're like me, at first glance that looks odd. Republicans claim to be about reducing spending. So why would Boehner chose to lower the amount the deal cuts in half? Matt Yglesias has the answer:

The nature of legislative compromise, after all, is that you accommodate someone else’s objectives in order to obtain your objectives. A movement that actually believed that reducing federal spending was extremely important would, it seems to me, be quite willing to make concessions in order to obtain large quantities of spending cuts. Viewed in that light, it’s not obvious to me that backing away from a $4 trillion deal primarily composed of spending cuts constitutes a “more conservative” option than saying yes. You’re seeing that very little has changed in practice from the Bush years, when the GOP agenda consisted of aggressive tax cutting made palatable by refusing to pair the cuts with spending reductions. Now, ostensibly, cutting spending is the order of the day. But the bargaining strategy is entirely built around a tax-focused goal rather than a spending-focused one.

So the $4 trillion was what Republicans wanted. But Obama and the Democrats would only accept that if it came with revenue increases, in other words, tax increases or the closing of loopholes. I wrote a post a few days ago trying to sort out what the real goal of Republicans were. I said that while they want to cut or end entitlements, they also really like tax cuts and not having to raise taxes. This move by Boehner seems to confirm that (though as Jonathan Bernstein points out, we should take all news regarding negotiations like this with a grain of salt).

Like I said, Republicans presumably had the chance to significantly cut entitlement spending, just like they did during much of the Bush presidency. Yet because they like tax cuts so much, the highest ranking Republican is probably calling for fewer cuts in entitlements in the hopes of not raising taxes. We shall see what the final result is. But if Republicans manage to get a deal that includes no or even minor entitlement cuts in favor of no or even minor revenue increases we will have a pretty clear picture of their goals, of which cutting taxes is their top priority.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Dissent in the Democratic ranks?

Not much attention has been paid to the Senate during the debt ceiling negotiations. Most of it has been focused on Republicans in the House and Obama. But obviously both of them need at least 51 Senators to pass whatever compromise they settle on. They may even need 60 votes if someone decides to filibuster.

Given that there is probably going to be controversial stuff for both parties in this deal I think the Senate merits more attention. Especially when people like Bernie Sanders say things like this:

REPORTER: In your view, if this debt limit deal includes any changes in Social Security, are you convinced that that will not be able to pass the Senate?

SANDERS: Again, it’s hard for us to talk about 99 other people. But I think there really is a disconnect, and I think Sheldon made this point when he was speaking, between what the White House is doing and rest of the Senate. What I can say is that I have heard, including from people that you might not expect to hear it from, that if they bring from the Senate a piece of crap which really comes down heavy on working families, and the elderly, and the sick, and the children, and they expect me to matter of factly vote for it, they have another thing coming. So I think the White House is for a serious surpise if they think everybody in the Democratic caucus is going to willy nilly follow the President and vote for anything he brings forth.

I'm not sure whether this is spin or if him and other Senators are genuinely concerned about the deal that Obama is making. That's because I'm also not clear on how much communication the Senate and Obama have had. If they have met and know Obama's plan this is probably just spin designed to cover their ass for an unpopular vote or to publicly show opposition. If they haven't met with Obama and don't know what is going on then I hope they stick to what they are saying and don't vote for a crappy bill.

The scary thing to me and people who care about not screwing over those who would be hurt by regressive entitlement cuts is that Obama could just not care about Senators like Sanders (who is listed as an independent, but the link says a Dem joined him) and the more liberal Democrats. If he gets a deal with the House that cuts entitlements he could get enough Republicans on board with moderate Democrats to get it through the Senate. The problem would be if someone like Sanders lives up to this rhetoric and filibusters. If that happens I'm not sure where the 60 votes would come from, though I would guess enough Democrats would vote for it just to not make their president look bad.

The other thing that I don't like is that there aren't any Democratic Senators coming out as forcefully as Sanders against a potential (and likely) bad deal. Perhaps I just haven't been looking. And maybe they are just biding their time. But given all the talk about entitlement cuts you would think at least one liberal Democrat would have expressed concern, if not in public than in private to the White House. I know Nancy Pelosi has but she doesn't have much bearing on the Senate and the Democrats aren't needed in the House anyway. If there isn't dissent in the Democratic ranks of the Senate then there probably should be come time to vote on a ridiculous debt ceiling bill.

The Matrix

AMC has been playing the whole trilogy for a few days. I can watch the two sequels and try to figure out what they are trying to say. They are at least entertaining enough to pass. But compared to the first they are disappointing. Perhaps because the first is just such a great movie.

Obviously there is a message the first movie is trying to get across. And what you take that message to be can probably depend on your own preset beliefs. But as I was just watching Morpheus explain to Neo what the Matrix is I was able to more clearly dictate what I had always thought was a big theme of the movie. The big question in the first act of the movie is "What is the Matrix?". Morpheus explains that humans built AI and at some point humans and those machines started fighting. Humans blacked out the sky so that the machines couldn't use the sun for energy. But the machines figured out how to use humans as energy. Thus humans were presumably wiped out and just grown in fields like crops for the machines to eat.

Technically Morpheus says the Matrix is a computer program that the machines plug humans into to make them feel like they are living in what was the world as humans knew it before the battle with machines. Again, I presume they do this so that the human body can keep growing and thus providing as much energy as it can. But Morpheus gives us his own personal definition of what the Matrix is. He says it is "control". Now to me, this picture the writers/directors have painted us is a very Marxist view of the world.

Another bad jobs report amidst deficit reduction talks

The Dish has a good roundup of reactions to the jobs report that came out today. Here are a few:

David Leonhardt:

Government officials, especially those at the Fed, have proven too optimistic again and again throughout the crisis. In recent months, they have been saying that they didn’t need to take further action because the economy would soon heal on its own. What do they do now?

Mark Thoma is on the same page:

Why, again, are we spending so much legislative time trying to figure out how to cut the deficit in the short-run -- which will make things even worse -- instead of focusing on job creation? We do need to get the budget under control in the long-run, but deficit reduction can wait until the economy is on better footing. We need more help for job markets right now, not the creation of additional headwinds that work against the recovery.

I know what Republicans think about this. They always believe gov't is bad and can't do anything to help (except sometimes when they control the gov't). That's fine. I get it. Its stupid and flies in the face of facts. But its what they think and they stick to it. So its not surprising they are excited about deficit reduction while the economy continues to drag along.

But what I don't fully understand is why Obama and Democrats are just as willing as Republicans to cut the deficit. I used to think that most of the reason was that Republicans controlled the House and they knew that the only way they could pass a budget and raise the debt ceiling was to offer some of what Republicans want, which is deficit reduction. I still think that is part of the equation. But I've come around to Paul Krugman and Glenn Greenwald's view that this is simply what Obama and other Democrats believe they should be doing. For some reason, they believe the economy is in good enough shape that their priority should be reducing the deficit instead of helping create more jobs.

One thing that Greenwald has talked about, which I think is important to understanding why Obama really believes in this route, is that this is also an electoral strategy designed to keep moderates on board. Obama knows he is going to get Democratic votes no matte what he does. Though he is sure testing us with all of the bullshit he is pulling. So he probably figures that cutting spending will play well with moderates come election time.

Regardless of how close we can get in determining what lawmakers are really thinking right now, its kind of amazing to look at what they are doing and the likely effects of their actions. The Fed is hitting below an already low inflation target while unemployment sits steady at about 9%. They continually refuse to raise inflation in order to get unemployment down. Republicans continue to be Republicans, not giving a shit about anything but tax rates for rich people and big business and gutting entitlements. Obama and Democrats are willingly putting social security and medicare on the table to be cut in order to reduce short term deficits that mean nothing, or at least aren't nearly as important as current unemployment and wage stagnation. Its insane and unemployment will very, very slowly decline and wages will continue to stay the same unless we tell them to change.

Making the market more free with calorie labeling

As with most things liberals want to do, conservatives oppose it and often invoke the rhetoric of tyranny in order to convince themselves and others that its a bad idea. Its no different when it comes to the requirement from the ACA that restaurants have to display how many calories their products maintain. Conservatives hate it and claim that gov't shouldn't force anyone to do anything they don't want to do. Ronald Bailey even calls it food nannyism:

The Washington Post has a nice article looking at how effective mandatory calorie labeling at restaurants is at getting customer to eat less. Short answer: Not very.

If providing unheeded information doesn't work, perhaps scaring consumers will. In light the FDA's recent imposition of graphic labels on cigarettes, Reason contributor A. Barton Hinkle recently asked in his column on Nanny State Propaganda:

How long before the government places graphic warning labels on junk food?

Not long. Nannies always know best and they never give up.

So to these people, providing information to the public is the work of the nanny state. As he even points out, people don't have to do anything with this information. The gov't isn't forcing anyone to eat certain things. Its simply telling restaurants that they have to provide information on calories. And as he also points out, people probably won't even listen.

But what is important is simply the availability of the information. In order for a market to be as free as possible consumers need as much information as they can get. For instance, they need to know the price of the product they are looking to consume so that they can compare it to other produces of the product. Does that mean that every consumer shops around and always tries to find the best price? No, but they have that information if they chose to do so.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pawlenty gets it right

When asked what Lady Gaga song is his favorite he says:

"In terms of the beat, I like ‘Bad Romance'.

I gotta say, even though she’s a little unusual, ‘Born this Way’ has got some appeal. She’s actually very talented. If you go to the end of the HBO special -- the Lady Gaga HBO special -- and you watch her sing acapella, “Born This Way,” she can sing. She can definitely sing. She’s talented.”

Bad Romance is a fantastic song, as is the video that accompanies it. Its definitely one of my favorite Gaga songs, probably in the top 2 along with Just Dance. Funny that he has to qualify his like of Born this Way because the song is so obviously about gay rights and tolerance of people in general and Pawlenty knows his party is almost the opposite of that. But he is right there too because it does have a catchy chorus. In fact, her ability to build up to a powerful and catchy chorus is probably what I like the most about Gaga musically. And Bad Romance might be the best example of that ability.

Listen to the part before the chorus when she is saying, "You know that I want you. You know that I need you. I want it bad...bad..bad...". Right after that there is a very brief lull and then the music and her voice kick back in with the chorus. Good stuff.

Conservative group in Iowa wants to protect women

By banning all forms of pornography. That's one of the 14 bullet points from some "family" supporting group in Iowa that wants Republican presidential candidates to sign their pledge in order to get an endorsement. Not surprisingly, Michele Bachman has signed on, continuing to up her cred as a completely crazy candidate.

There is a lot of stuff in this thing about homosexuality. Its the typical crap you hear from conservatives. Not much to say there. One funny point is that they claim "sex is better after marriage". If they are so committed to their beliefs how would they have the experience to be able to compare sex before and after? The pornography thing is what I wanted to talk about because that is not as ridiculous as the others and they frame it as protecting women. Here is what it says:

Vow 9 stipulates that the candidate must “support human protection of women and the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy” and protect them from “seduction into promiscuity and all forms of pornography…and other types of coercion or stolen innocence.”

I'll tackle this in order. Supporting the protection of women is obviously important and great. Though I doubt they would support protecting a mother is a birth was threatening her life and an abortion would save her. Nor would they protect a woman's mental health by supporting abortion if a woman was impregnated because of rape or incest. So I'm sure they fall a bit short in fulfilling that step. I have no idea what the "innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy" means. But if it means sex before marriage they are fighting biology and will lose.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The real goal behind the Republican tactics

I came across an interesting analysis of the debt ceiling debate when reading The Dish. It comes from a reader who says this:

I think it is helpful when conservative columnists like David Brooks write these columns calling out the fiscal irresponsibility of the GOP. But one continuing and crucial problem made by Brooks and most others is to pretend that this Republican behavior is motivated by a quasi-theological desire not to raise taxes, and that this anti-tax position is threatening a debt default or massive spending cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicare, the EPA, the SEC, etc. To the contrary, gutting these popular social programs and regulatory agencies is the end goal pursued by Republicans here and insisting on no new revenues (while demanding trillions of spending cuts) is the tactic Republicans have adopted to achieve these specific goals.

It is certainly true that Republicans want to end those programs mentioned. Not only do they talk about doing so, they have actually tried to do so, most recently with Paul Ryan's budget that passed the House. But do they not also want to not raise taxes? I'm not sure that is simply a tactic they are using in order to achieve the higher goals of ending entitlement programs rather than an important goal in and of itself. The reader goes on:

Battlestar Galactica ctd.

It didn't take long for the show to address my concerns about the legitimacy of the gov't. I didn't expect a terrorist to be making similar arguments to the ones I was making, mainly about democratic viability. But it was a good way to create tension and raise those questions.

I think the solution Captain Apollo came up with was very good. Its important to keep continuity with the gov't that was established before the attack. And since the election would have conveniently been 7 months from now it will allow for a fairly quick change if the people decide its needed.

A few other things are interesting about the episode. One is that when the two cylons that are watching the two survivors on Caprica the woman cylon (the beautiful Tricia Hefer) expresses sympathy towards them. Her reasoning is that they are essentially the parents of the cylons. Obviously they are complex machines. But I didn't expect sympathy to be an emotion they would have, especially when the male cylon explains that they attacked because the humans would have destroyed themselves anyway and he showed no remorse. I wonder if the woman cylon that the Doc is hallucinating about on Galactica is as sympathetic as this one.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The rational hypocrite

I wanted to talk about this story of freshman GOP congressmen asking for pork after running on being fiscally responsible because its a good example of rationality and one of them hits close to home. Here is one of the stories:

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), a member of the freshmen Republican class of the House of Representatives whose district includes the port project, faced a predicament. Elected as a fiscal hawk, with pledges to get spending under control, he could either go to the mat for Cates Landing or make a philosophical, self-sacrificial statement.

He chose the former. On March 8, 2011, Gannett news service reported that the funding for Cates Landing was being targeted by lawmakers looking to slash the federal budget. The same day that report came out, Fincher spoke directly with Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood about the funds. The next day, he wrote a follow-up letter seeking assistance in "obligating" the $13 million grant for the port.

Last year around this time I interviewed with the Roy Herron campaign. He was running for TN's 8th district and his opponent was Stephen Fincher. I'm not sure why I didn't get the job. But obviously I wouldn't be working for a congressman right now if I did. The poor economy was too much for a Democrat to overcome in a moderate to slightly conservative leaning district. So Fincher's typical anti-spending, anti-everything the gov't does campaign won out. And now we have this story of him using the big bad federal gov't to buy him something for his district.

David Brooks joins the rest of us in reality

Maybe he was there all along. But it took this column for him to spell out exactly how Republicans aren't living in reality, rather some place where every concession Democrats make is unacceptable, even when its something Republicans just said they wanted. Here he lays out what Democrats are willing to give:

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

That's a lot just to raise a debt ceiling that is unnecessary to begin with and which hasn't been used as a negotiating ploy since Republicans tried it one time with Clinton. The difference then was Clinton had the guts to essentially tell them to piss off. Obama doesn't have that political courage. And Republicans stand to reap the benefits. But they haven't yet:

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th

I had some July 4th thoughts I wanted to share.

Favorite ID4 fact: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were close friends, died on the same day, which was July 4th. If that were in a movie I would probably roll my eyes. But the fact that it really happened is poetic.

Jonathan Bernstein's question for the weekend was who are your political heroes. The only one that comes to mind for me is James Madison. I remember reading the Constitution in Political Science 101 and being fascinated about how such a document was drawn up and how it helped create the great nation we still have over 200 years later. Obviously Madison was an important part of that. So I gravitated towards him and the arguments he made.

As I pointed out in my last post about the founders, he had poor positions on slavery and would contradict himself after Washington's presidency and into his own regarding federal power and states rights. But what I really admire is his ambition to help make his country great. And honoring that time and those people who laid the foundations for this great country is what the 4th is about to me.

Battlestar Galactica and post-disaster government

I've just started watching Battlestar Galactica on BBC America. Yeah I'm really late to this. I've heard great things and I'm intrigued so far. I just got finished with the second episode "Water". What is interesting to me is how quickly they moved from the chaos of being attacked to being relatively calm and organized. Granted, the president just asked the military to serve as the police on a ship that is becoming hostile because of the water rationing. But all things considered, things are going ok.

What strikes me about this episode and the show so far is how such a few people are making these huge decisions. Once the secretary of education got word that the president and the rest of the cabinet were dead and she was now the president she made the decision to rescue as many survivors as the ship could hold. The commander of the fleet disagreed. But the decision, possibly a human race saving one, was made by two people. That's kind of scary.

Under the circumstances that's probably the best that could be done. And once things settled down they formed a makeshift cabinet in order to get multiple opinions. But things still seem to be largely decided by the commander of the fleet and the president. In the real world I could see something like this happening. Perhaps democratic ideals are so imbedded in Americas and others that a handful of survivors would want at least some level of input into decisions. But at some point you still need a few final decision makers.

The one thing I think I would want in the BSG universe and in the real world is some sort of a revote. Like in BSG we have a procedure for who moves up the ladder to be in charge given the death of the leaders. But once the dust settles a bit I think it would be a good idea to reevaluate the leadership. The president in BSG seems competent enough so far. But in the real world I'm not sure a secretary of education would be a suitable replacement for the president. Though if they were, I think people would have more confidence in the final decisions if they had signed off on the person in charge.

People who annoy me

Those who shoot fireworks on days other than holidays.

For a couple of days now we have had fairly consistent fireworks being shot in our neighborhood. Now, I love shooting fireworks as much as anyone else. But I don't see much sense in doing so days before the 4th, much less during the middle of the day. The biggest reason this is annoying is because it stirs up the dogs in the neighborhood, especially ours. In general its just inconsiderate of other people.

Not everyone keeps the same hours. Some people could be sleeping during the day. Others may be working from home. That kind of stuff is the reason fireworks are reserved for holidays when people are generally off of work. So when it comes to fireworks or other loud disturbances be considerate of others. Because you sure wouldn't like it if the tables were turned and they were disturbing you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Michele Bachman and the founders

She has been getting a lot of flack lately for saying the founders worked tirelessly to end slavery. And then when called on getting that statement completely wrong she cited John Quincy Adams as someone who fought to end slavery. Again, she got that wrong because he was just a kid when his father and the other founders were forming the US.

Bachman is just another Republican in a long line of Republicans who try to rewrite history to make it more favorable to their world view. She says the founders worked tirelessly to end slavery because if she acknowledges the fact that many of them did the opposite (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, probably the majority of founders from the south owned slaves) this bubble they have put around them as the harbingers of the all knowing and all correct in America politics would burst and they would be forced to make an argument besides "this is what the founders wanted" in policy and constitutional debates.

But I wanted to take this instance of Republicans trying to rewrite history to talk about a book I've been reading called "Madison and Jefferson". As you can discern from the title, the book is about those two men and their relationship with one another. The latest chapter I've finished touches on the issue of slavery and the slightly different views the two men had towards the institution and black people.

Braves at the halfway point

I'm really impressed by what the Braves have been able to do in the first half of the season. The injuries started to pile up; Prado, Heyward, McClouth. And aside from Brian McCann no one has had a great year offensively. Dan Uggla has been terrible. Chipper has been ok. Heyward has been poor when in there. Freddie Freeman has been solid, especially for such a young player. But overall the offense has been mediocre.

The pitching has been outstanding. Jair Jurrjens has the best starters ERA in the NL, helped by the one hit shutout he pitched last night. This has been kind of surprising to me because he was hurt to start the year (which is why I dropped him from my fantasy team, stupid me). And he isn't a strikeout pitcher nor does he have great command. He relies on a low 90s two seem fastball that moves a lot to get ground balls. But his control has been good enough and he is doing a good job of keeping the ball on the ground.

The same can always be said of Hudson and Lowe. They have been solid compliments to Jurrjens, along with Hanson and Beachy. The bullpen has been pretty good too, especially Venters and Kimbrel. They are nearly lights out in the 8th and 9th. Overall I figured the pitching staff would be good, just not quite this good. If the bats wake up a bit (especially Uggla and Heyward) they have a good shot at challenging the Phillies for the East.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I hate MVP debates

They usually consist of at least one person making dumb arguments. Today on 1st and 10 it was both Skip Bayless and Jamelle Hill saying that they don't think a MVP should come from a losing team. Let's ignore the fact that they were talking about a baseball season that is only half over and focus on the logic.

The MVP is supposed to be the most valuable player. Nothing in that phrase says anything about a team or a team winning %. Its simply about which player brings the most value. We can argue on the margins about what value means and how to measure it. But I don't think you can argue that one player on a baseball team accounts for a win or wins all on his own. A player simply scores or prevents more or less runs than his replacement or other players around the league would. And the act of scoring or preventing runs helps his team win games.

I highlight helps because a pitcher can throw 9 perfect innings but he would still need his teammates to score a run in order for him to win the game. Conversely a hitter could hit 5 HRs in one game but he would still need the pitchers to allow fewer than 5 runs in order for the team to win. In short, winning (and losing) is a result of what the entire team does. No player pitches and hits enough at the same time to be able to claim that he won a game on his own.

Once we agree that no one player accounts for the total win % of his entire team we have to acknowledge that the other players on the team affect said winning %. And once we say that, it doesn't make any sense to then say that just because a player plays on a team with a poor winning % means he can't be the most valuable player in the league.