Friday, October 28, 2011

The Pope embracing doubt?

Andrew Sullivan has a post up titled "The Pope Embraces Doubt". Andrew commends the pope for acknowledging agnostics in his speech. Here is the part Andrew quotes and what I took issue with:

They (agnostics) are “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”. They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force.

I'll post my email to Andrew after the jump because I don't want to take up too much room on the front page.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Republican tax plans

Rick Perry has come out with this tax plan and Matt Yglesias points out that its just a little better than Herman Cain's.

This is a more modest regressive tax shift than the one implied by Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, but it’s exactly the same in its scope and direction. One of the interesting things about today’s GOP presidential campaign is the extent to which it reveals a total lack of policy disagreement about this. The different candidates’ ideas are all variants on the idea that what America needs is not just lower levels of taxation, but a specific focus on taxing rich people less. What you hear very little about is a theoretical explanation of why this addresses the unmistakeable economic disappointments of the past ten years. Did we not try this? Did Bush’s tax cuts not deliver enough “certainty?”

Cain wants to raise everyone's taxes except for the rich, who would get massive reductions. Perry wants to do the same, just on a smaller scale. Obviously they don't go around saying these things. So it seems like they are either completely unaware of what their plans actually entail or they are relying on people being ignorant.

Though I guess its possible that they just don't care. It could be possible that conservatives are actually convinced they will be rich in the near future and thus they will benefit directly from the massive tax cuts the rich will get under these plans. They could also be convinced that poor people are just lazy morons who should be paying more despite not having much money to begin with. Who knows at this point?

Regardless of how much crazy shit conservatives actually believe, I still think its risky to propose even more regressive tax cuts than Bush did. As the Occupy Wall Street protests have shown, people are starting to get fed up with vast inequality. And while many of those people might be liberals and libertarians, even some conservatives will get mad if President Romney doesn't help improve their economic outlook, all the while giving the rich every advantage they can. I guess as long as conservatives remain delusional these types of tax plans will keep getting proposed.

The National Anthem at sporting events

Andrew Sullivan has a continuing post on the national anthem. This came about after Zooey Deschanel sang it before the World Series on Sunday. Apparently some people didn't like the fact that she didn't sing it in a triumphant manner. She certainly sang it a bit differently. And like many of Andrew's readers have pointed out, I think it was a nice change of pace, and appropriate:

I am so glad that you picked up the Deschanel/National Anthem question. I just watched the video of it earlier today and was so pleased. The part of the song that we sing the most - the first stanza - is really a series of questions. This form betrays the seriousness and uncertainty present in the hymn, and I am always touched by the searching tone of it, especially the last question: "Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave; O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?". It is a meditation of concern on whether or not we are going to make it, not a triumphant ode to having already done so. We would do well to recover this reflection right now! So, I say Deschanel was dead on in her approach.

Perhaps its because I'm a cynical asshole, but when people sing it in a triumphant manner, I more often than not think they are just trying to show off. That is also because I don't think it should be sang at all, not at a sporting event. This reader makes the case well:

Our knee-jerk patriots, who want not just to enforce patriotism at sporting events but even determine the tone of that patriotism, need a history lesson. Until the First World War, no one would have dreamt of playing the "Star-Spangled Banner" before a baseball game. Sports, especially professional sports, were thought to be inherently unworthy of the dignity and gravitas assigned to our national anthem. Only pro-war patriotic zeal - and the desire of baseball owners to be allowed to continue to play during the conflict - led to the now-unquestioned pairing of flag-waving and jock-sniffing that is so central to one strain of "America Fuck Yeah!" patriotism.

Its great people want to be patriotic. But why at a sporting event? What do sports have to do with patriotism? I'm there to watch a game. Its an escape from real world stuff. Its not like a game is the only time in which you have to be patriotic. And as the read above points out, much of it is faux-patriotism.

Its an opportunity for people participating in a tribal ritual to pull in another tribal ritual in order to give them a higher sense of personal meaning. Once people leave the game they don't give a shit about the wars we are fighting or getting involved in the politics that shape how great our nation will be. Its just annoying and I'd enjoy my sports experiences just a little more if I didn't have to sit through these fake political shows, even when someone like Deschanel doesn't go over the top and makes it about herself.

Though one exception I will make is if all performances of the national anthem were done by someone playing it on an electric guitar. That is usually so awesome I am willing to ignore the fact that it has no place in sports.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tony LaRussa

He is getting a lot of criticism for the bullpen mishap last night. He tried to get Jason Motte up so he could face a right handed hitter. But something was wrong with the phone and the coach in the bullpen thought he said a different name. So when LaRussa went to make a pitching change he had to bring in a left hander instead of Motte.

The Cards the proceeded to give up a few runs and lose the game. Could LaRussa have done more to make sure he could bring in Motte? Maybe. But what I think everyone I've heard talking about this is missing is that its still up to the pitcher and the defense to get the batters out. Just because he had to use a left hander doesn't mean that pitcher had to give up a run. Plus they are also assuming Motte would have gotten the batter out. The probabilities were probably in the Cards' favor with Motte pitching. But you still don't know. And the Cards still had a chance to tie the game. So let's lay off LaRussa. The players have to play.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Walking Dead

* Spoilers if you haven't seen the first two episodes of the new season *

It was a slightly less exciting episode this week. But it was more emotional given the circumstance with Rick's son. I like how they aren't too heavy handed with showing the emotions of the characters. The actors deserve a lot of credit for that. I also think they way they shoot the scenes and the score they use adds to it. Something I learned from watching Buffy is that often times when you are showing emotional scenes less amounts to more. You don't have to spell out everything and force things in order to get the audience to connect with the characters. So far I think the show is doing a good job on this front.

As for the actual plot, the lost girl is almost and afterthought since Rick's son was shot. Its been, what, over a day, maybe two, since she ran off and got lost. I can buy that she got away from walkers. But for a girl that young I would think it will be getting difficult to find food and water. Plus she has to be freaked out. I'd get scared getting lost in a grocery store at that age, much less being chased by zombies. So I don't like the prospects for the group finding her. If they don't find her soon they will have to get into a very difficult conversation.

I thought Sean (I think that's his name, the cop with the dark haired guy) was close to telling Rick what happened with Rick's wife while he was in the hospital. Now that the kid has been shot it seems like Sean won't be as willing to leave as he was. Not to mention that he is trapped by walkers. I liked how they set that scene up. That's another thing I think they do well. They don't stretch things too much in order to create tension. Next week should have plenty of that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dolphins v Broncos

Its funny how I said last week that I wanted the Dolphins to lose every game except the Jets and Patriots games so that we could get Andrew Luck. The Broncos put me to the test. Tebow and the rest of the team sucked for the first three quarters. And while the Dolphins continued to be pretty mediocre, they miraculously got a TD inside the red zone along with a few FGs to get a 15 point lead going into the 4th quarter.

At that point I was find of excited. I actually wanted to win. And it was fun to start to get that feeling you get when your team has won. But typically, they blew it and let Tebow look like John Elway. Granted, when Tebow finally let loose in the 4th quarter he started throwing with accuracy, which he wasn't doing for the first three quarters. He still has not very good mechanics. But for some reason he seems to throw more accurately when he is on the run or off balance. Its weird, and it certainly helped the Broncos win, along with the poor defense from the Dolphins.

The one good thing about blowing a game like this is you can just take solace in the fact that this keeps us in the running for Luck. I've been hearing a lot about how the Colts and other teams that could finish with the first pick would draft Luck even with high picks and a ton of money invested in QBs. I just don't see it. So it could be possible that the Dolphins don't have to finish with the worst record in order to get Luck. So even despite the good feelings during parts of the game today, I still say we should play hard but come up just short.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Evangelical atheists

About 30 minutes ago I had a woman from a baptist church come to my door in order to try and get me to support her and her church. For some reason I have an impulse to not be an asshole, or to not come across as one to other people. So I let her ramble on without interrupting her and saying I'm not interested. About five minutes in I think she got the sense that I wasn't interested and asked if I was an atheist. I said yes. But that didn't shake her up much at all. She just kept going with her speech, barely taking a breath. I even mentioned a second time I was an atheist and she just kept going. Eventually I nicely said I wasn't interested a she went on her way.

That experience made me wonder what would happen if atheists went around evangelizing about their beliefs. And I don't mean doing so in a combative manner. Most christians aren't too bad with their door to door stuff. I mean just calmly asking people to give up their beliefs and join atheists in not believing. I would suspect people would be just as annoyed as I was, though not necessarily because of the nature of the message. I think even christians get annoyed by evangelizing because what you believe is usually very personal and you already have those beliefs set and a church chosen. People don't like forced preaching. If they want to be preached to, they will seek it out. They can respect you have your own beliefs. But leave it at that and let people be.

Being offended by policy

Last week I was sitting at the desk of the office I'm interning at and I heard a Congressman on CSPAN arguing against federal funding of abortion. One point he mentioned was that half the country opposed abortion and would thus be offended if the federal gov't funded it. I immediately spouted off a response in front of one of the staffers, which was that I would find it offensive if you as a Republican wanted to fund infrastructure projects in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other foreign countries yet not want to do so here in the US. And that my taking offense to that policy wouldn't change his mind, thus taking offense to federal funding of abortion is not a a very good reason to oppose it as a policy.

Well, it turns out that Republicans do in fact want to federally fund infrastructure projects in other countries:

Republicans have made blanket opposition to big federal spending projects a cornerstone of their policy agenda. That means even historically bipartisan programs like infrastructure investment are DOA in Congress, at least for the time being.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to hear a GOP senator who’s up for re-election this cycle say on Fox News, “We can go over there and help them build their infrastructure up.”

That’s Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). He wasn’t talking about a forlorn corner of the United States, though. He was talking about Libya. And the ‘infrastructure’ he was talking about didn’t really include schools and bridges.

“One of the problems I have from leading from behind is when a day like this comes we don’t have the infrastructure in place that we could have,” Graham explained. Here he’s talking about the metaphorical infrastructure of U.S. forces and appointees on the ground who can help direct events. However, he soon moved on to talking about another type of infrastructure — the kind that helps with extracting oil.

This isn't to say that funding infrastructure in places like Libya is necessarily a bad idea. Its just that given the circumstances we face in the US (high unemployment, poor infrastructure, low interest rates) it seems like funding infrastructure here would take priority. You would think that patriotic Republicans who like to tout the US as the greatest country ever would like to implement policy that helps make that statement more factual than an ideal goal.

I'm not really offended, in a strict sense, by these types of things. They just annoy me. Poor logic annoys me, especially coming from supposedly smart people who are suppose to be running the country. So I don't mean to say that being offended is a good logical argument for not implementing a policy. Just don't use that emotion as a reason why you don't support a certain policy because there is almost certainly something you support that others will find offensive.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The un-serious feedback loop

Jonathan Bernstein defends the performances of Perry and Romney in the GOP debates:

It's a nice catch, but I disagree with Frum's interpretation, which is that it shows Perry isn't a very serious candidate, which I think means Perry is either lazy or over his head.

I'd go in another direction: Perry is confronted with a tough problem, and is taking a sensible way out. The tough problem is that doing policy in the GOP nomination contest is almost impossible. What motivates Tea Partiers and other enthusiastic primary voters? A lot of it is mythical, such as the immanent Obamcrackdown on fracking seen here, or Obama's apology tour, or Obama's plans to seize everyone's guns, or all those IRS agents that Jon Huntsman was complaining about in last week's debate. Others are internally contradictory; good luck proposing a budget that eliminates the deficit, cuts taxes, and doesn't cut spending on the military or current Medicare or SS payments. Still others are massively unpopular general election positions; that part is normal in all presidential nomination contests, but particularly an issue this time around. And hanging over all of it is the possibility that something on the approved list today could be the mark of a RINO tomorrow (see: Mitt Romney, health care reform). Not to mention that there are a half dozen or so "candidates" who are prone to making up stuff intended to ingratiate themselves to the crazies (well, it's really mainly three -- Newt, Bachmann, Cain).

It's not Rick Perry and Mitt Romney who aren't serious; it's the party they're trying to lead.

That's probably right for the most part. The GOP was not serious at least for a while before Perry and Romney decided to run for president. And they would risk losing support if they tried to be serious. But its not certain they would lose support among the base, or with the party leaders.

Romney's support seems to be evidence that both a significant portion of Republicans and the party leaders value someone who can be serious. Perry's decline in support seems to suggest that a candidate needs to have some aura of seriousness. Cain's rise suggests a significant portion is either easily fooled or doesn't value seriousness. But at least they aren't crazy enough to support Gingrich, Bachmann, and Paul.

Just as I typed that I think I convinced myself that the Republican party, or at least its leaders, aren't as crazy as they appear. And let's be real about Cain, its highly unlikely his support will last long. So its likely that they will nominate Romney, someone who has shown the ability to be serious. And remember just a few years ago when they nominated McCain, who also had displayed moments of seriousness.

I started this post wanting to talk about how GOP candidates and office holders help perpetuate the crazy inhabits their party and forces them to be un-serious during debates and when talking about policy. I'm not sure someone like Perry or Romney could change that fact too much. But I think they could help a little if they were serious and didn't completely pander to the crazy, or mythical as Jonathan puts it. But what I've convinced myself of is that while the rhetoric and proposals going around right now aren't very serious, the act of actually choosing the candidate seems to be a serious endeavor on at least some level. Otherwise I don't think Romney would get so much support while the really crazy candidates basically get none (Cain's current rise notwithstanding).

My hope is that once Romney gets the nomination he stops pandering to the crazy and taps into that seriousness that helped him get elected governor of a liberal state and enact serious policies. And if the economy is still isn't noticeably improving and Romney wins, I hope he governs in a serious manner and helps delude some of the crazy that has come to the forefront over the past few years.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fuck it

Just lose, Miami. I wanted you to beat the Jets because they are the Jets and I don't like them. And I still want you to beat them the second time we play them. I'd also like to beat the Patriots. But when it comes to the rest of the schedule, just lose them all. The likelihood of making the playoffs is extremely small. So what's the point of winning games if you aren't going to make the playoffs? Pride? Please. This team is pathetic. The coaches are inept. The players don't seem to care.

I really see no reason to win. There is no pride to be had in winning a few more games than the Colts or the other bad teams in the league. There is a reason to lose. And while many think that reason is Andrew Luck, it doesn't even have to be about him. There is value in getting the first pick in the draft. Obviously, it allows you to pick any player you want. And now that we have rookie wage scales, you don't have to pay picks as much as you used to. So now there is less risk involved in picking high in the draft.

So for the sake of us Dolphin fans, just tank the rest of the season. This season is a lost cause. Sparano will be fired. Ireland might be fired as well. Just focus on the next draft and the next offseason. Being successful in those things are more important to the medium and long term success of the franchise than squeaking out a few wins this season so that you finish above the Colts. And if you don't succeed in doing those things, you risk pissing off even extremely loyal fans like myself. Because even we can't take this crap for too long.

This man wants to be president

Dan Drezner analyzes Herman Cain's foreign policy views:

I found.... a total of five paragraphs on "national security." That's it. No white papers, fact sheets, bullet points, or list of advisors. So you gotta think that these are going to be the most awesome and mind-blowing foreign policy paragraphs ever!!!

Check the link to see the actual paragraphs, which are really pathetic. I can go over to the University of Memphis Political Science department and have every single person over there give a vastly more detailed foreign policy overview than this person who is running for the office that basically controls US foreign policy.

So, that's it. Nothing on great power politics, nothing on foreign economic policy, nothing on our alliances, nothing on any particular region of the globe. Nothing but a faint whiff of Carl Schmitt's logic of friends and enemies. This is actually worse than Rick Perry's efforts, in that I don't think it passes the Turing Test.

Here is a quote Dan flags from Cain's book:

I'm not trying to escape the broader issues, but I think a President should first be briefed on classified intelligence about America's relationships before offering opinions.

The public doesn't know the answers to those [foreign policy] questions, and neither do I.

That's no excuse for not having an informed opinion on any foreign policy issue whatsoever. This guy is a complete joke. And it really shows how ridiculous and pathetic the Republican party is for giving this guy the time of day. Both parties usually have some weirdos who try to get nominated. But Cain is another breed of incompetent and unqualified, even among the small mindedness of the Rick Perry types of the world. I guess someone had to fill the void that Sarah Palin left.

The Walking Dead

Season two finally premiered tonight. I thought it was a really good start. I won't get into specifics since its only a few hours old. I'll just say that I'm a fairly big fan of the zombie genre. Like Battlestar Galactica, it provides us with a unique circumstance in which we can explore the less common or deeper aspects of humanity and really stretch characters.

Zombies work because its not a huge leap mentally to buy into the whole thing. Most movies and shows about zombies don't get too specific in explaining how zombies came about. But the most common explanation of some sort of virus that created them isn't too difficult to swallow. And again, like BSG, the fact that the zombies are, or were, human beings makes it more emotional.

The Walking Dead is a good show because it does a good job of developing the emotions of its characters. And now its more than just sitting around a camp site trying to hold off zombies. I think getting out of Atlanta and venturing towards what they think could be a safer place will make this season compelling.


I didn't post anything about last week's episodes. But I really enjoyed them. Starbuck was fantastic. She puts up the tough front. But she showed that she had a big heart when she named off all the pilots who have lost their lives, even though she told Apollo she didn't know their names. It was a really nice moment.

This week's episodes delved more into the relationship between Dee and Apollo. Even though I though the relationship between Dee and Billy was really cute, the one with her and Apollo is really hot. They made me feel bad when they kill off Billy. And they skip some emotional stuff with Dee after Billy dies when they have her and Apollo sleeping together in the next episode. But given that episode's plot I guess it makes sense to skip ahead to Apollo being healthy and then being over Billy.

Speaking of that plot, I continue to be impressed in the show's ability to tackle any and all issues. Not many issues are more touchy than abortion. And the interesting spin we are given with the issue is that there is a question of how the species will survive in the medium and long term. That of course is a question of not only surviving cylon attacks, but population growth. President Roslyn is initially against the idea of banning abortion because she still valued the right of privacy that women had over their body that they had on Caprica.

The question to me is whether Roslyn made the decision to ban abortion for political purposes or for the survival of the population. The show suggests politics played a part in it by showing the discussion with a political leader that said Roslyn's support would drop if she didn't ban it. But it also suggests that if politics was part of it, it wasn't the whole thing, because she goes against the wishes of that same leader in not prosecuting the woman who had the abortion that sparked the debate.

As for the question of banning abortion for the sake of sustaining population growth, I don't think that is the right move, at least as something other than a last resort. One thing that came to mind as an alternative is to provide incentives for people to reproduce. Another thing I think would have been interesting in the context of cylons and their ability to look like humans is the idea of artificial insemination and some sort of cloning. Get people to provide sperm and eggs and hold them in reserve for future use if needed. Those options are at least worth considering given the alternative that Gyus lays out, which is the restriction of freedom. But even though I agree with the VP's dissent from Roslyn, his motives seems to be very dangerous.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Am I the only one thinking of Marx?

Surely I can't be the only one who thinks of Karl Marx when I read about the economy. And when I say that I mean I think about Marx's critique of capitalism, not his theory for advancing communism. I think its hard to argue that he wasn't onto something with his critique of capitalism as an economic system, which is basically that it concentrates all the wealth in the ownership class at the expense of the laborers. Is that not what is going on now, and has been for the past 30 or so years?

If I'm wrong tell me. But if not, I think it says something about the connotation Marx and his theories carry that he isn't brought up essentially at all. For most people, when you say Marx, they think of the Soviet Union and all of the horrible aspects of it's existence. Fair or not, Marx has a bad reputation. And when you cite him everyone jumps to call you a commie and dismiss you as a crank. But again, tell me how his analysis of our economic system isn't relevant right now?

Here is a roundup of a bunch of charts and figures detailing why the people of Occupy Wall Street and most of the rest of the country are angry at basically everyone responsible for the state of the economy. Here are a few that stand out:

I don't think the answer to these problems is to hand the economy over to the state. But I think most of us can agree that something needs to change in order to remedy this vast difference between the owners and laborers.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Tonight's episode felt like Community again. The entire plot revolved around the group. No Chang. No random characters being thrown into the mix (not counting the pizza guy). It wasn't in the study room. But it was the group being the group. And most importantly, Troy and Abed were a main focus of the plot.

So with all of that its not surprising that this was my favorite episode of the season so far. And they managed to touch on the faults or the darker aspects of the characters without making them seem too crazy and unlikable. They all turned out to be flawed but in a charming and funny way. That's the Community I've come to love. I also liked the narrative they chose, showing us a different reality for each character. And they rapped it up nicely with the evil beard thing during the end credits.

Please Dan Harmon, let Annie move in with Troy and Abed so we can see her watching tv with them in her pajamas. And more with the less Chang/other really weird characters.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Republicans for taxes

Timothy Noah has the numbers:

This has been said before but it cannot be said enough. Republican presidential candidates and Republican members of Congress are out of touch with Republican voters on the necessity of raising taxes to reduce the budget deficit. A Washington Post-Bloomberg News poll conducted Oct. 6-9 found that 68 percent of all voters and 54 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters favored raising taxes on incomes above $250,000 (i.e., the Obama plan) to tackle the deficit. On the question of whether to reduce Social Security or Medicare benefits to reduce the deficit, 83 and 82 percent, respectively, of all voters opposed. For Republicans and Republican-leaners, these proportions were only slightly lower: 79 and 77 percent, respectively. Entitlement spending will have to be cut, of course, to reduce the deficit, because entitlement spending represents a majority of all federal spending. (Only one-fifth of federal spending resides in the "non-defense discretionary" category currently being whittled to the bone.) But that option is pretty unpopular with just about everyone and it is therefore politically unwise for Republican politicians to try to balance the budget through spending cuts alone.

How about those freeberty loving, constitutional conservatives?:

To whom, exactly, do Republican officeholders and candidates think they're pandering? The Tea Party? Evidence has begun to trickle in that even the Tea Party isn't as anti-tax as Republican party leaders. On Aug. 1 the New York Times ran a Page One story by Kate Zernike (who recently published a book about the Tea Party) that said "the power of the Tea Party as a singular force may be more phantom than reality." Zernike then went on to report: "When Tea Party supporters were asked if the debt-ceiling agreement should include only tax increases, only spending cuts, or a combination of both, the majority — 53 percent — said that it should include a combination. Forty-five percent preferred only spending cuts." The story didn't get much play elsewhere because readers couldn't wrap their minds around it. How could Tea Party supporters not be thinking like ... Tea Party supporters? And if the Tea Party hasn't kidnapped the Republican party, who the hell has?

Two things I can think of to explain this:

These polls are asking Republicans as whole and not likely voters. I'd presume that those Republicans who are more likely to vote aren't as in favor of tax increases as Republicans are in general. If that is the case, elected Republican officials are probably doing their own polling of likely voters and finding that they are less likely to support tax increases. Politicians are going to be less likely to care about what non-voters think. So the weigh the views of the likely voters more.

The other thing is also tied to voting, but more on the campaigning side. The people who are inclined to give money to politicians are likely to be those who have a vested interest in not seeing incomes above $250k taxed more. So like the non-voters thing, politicians are going to weigh those opinions more than others because they rely on their donations and the fact that they are also more likely to vote. This point is actually verified by research. I don't have that research available at hand to link you to. But basically it shows that politicians are more responsive to people with more money than to those with less.

So until Republicans who don't vote and those who don't donate money to Republican politicians make their voices heard and vote more, their elected officials will continue to ignore their desire to help balance the budget through higher taxes on the rich. And they will also continue to chip away at SS and Medicare/Medicaid at their expense.

* One side note. It could be that the framing of the questions in the poll are skewing responses to make it look like Republicans favor stuff they actually don't. But as far as I can tell, the questions look pretty straightforward. So it doesn't look like the framing is making a big difference.

Were we screwed all along?

That's the question Jonathan Chait asks in response to Ezra Klein's column from the weekend analyzing why the Obama administration didn't have more success fixing the economy. He thinks we weren't:

Is there any possible way we could have escaped our fate? Actually, one possibility leaps out from Klein’s analysis: We could have elected John McCain president.

The reason for this is not that we could have avoided the Kenyan Socialism or even the regulatory Uncertainty held up by conservatives as the cause of the continued slump. (It’s a demonstrable canard.) Rather, it’s that a McCain presidency would, for purely political reasons, offer the possibility of greater Keynesian demand-side response.

He then goes on to suggest that policies would have been passed easier because Republicans wouldn't have been angry that they lost an election and Democrats wouldn't have been as angry and completely politically minded as Republicans were when they lost.

But what if we had a Republican president? Perhaps a President McCain might have designed a less sweeping and less effective stimulus than President Obama did. But Republicans would have gone along — after all, they did under Bush, and this time the justification was far stronger. It’s also likely that Democrats would have gone along, because they have shown themselves to be happy to support stimulus under Republican presidents. It also seems likely that, as the crisis deepened, President McCain would have fought for more stimulus measures, and these measures would not have been dead on arrival because there would not have been a right-wing backlash against the first one.

I think this is a pretty plausible argument about how both parties would have reacted to a McCain win. Republicans certainly flipped their shit in response to Obama winning and have done nearly everything they could to try and prevent him from doing anything. Its hard to envision Republicans giving McCain too much of a hard time. Yes they resisted Bush's stimulus. But iirc, they (or at least some) eventually came around. And they would have more incentive to do something after they had won an election as compared to being afraid of screwing up right before one.

The more uncertain part is the Democrats. It would have been a really tough loss to have the hopeful Obama lose and let another Republican usher in another 4 years after a really crappy 8. So while in general Democrats have been more likely to put aside politics a bit and work together for policy, I could see them being a little ticked off and not very willing to give McCain exactly what he wanted. Still, I think enough moderate Dems would have been willing to work with McCain in order to uphold Chait's thesis.

But that's all within that first year or so. Where Chait's thesis gets rocky is in that second wave after the initial stimulus policies are passed and have been allowed to work their way into the economy. For Obama, the second wave of action was met with huge skepticism because the first wave didn't seem to do enough. Plus he passed health care reform, which made Republicans even more angry than they were right after the election. Would McCain have done something like Obama did with health care? Probably not. Would his first wave of stimulus have been much better than Obama's. Given the fact that a lot of people underestimated how bad the recession was, I'd say probably not.

So I think this whole counterfactual relies on McCain's ability to convince both Republicans and Democrats that more stimulus is needed. When trying to answer that, keep in mind that he would have to deal with either a Congress that is up for reelection very soon or a new Congress that could turn Democrat given the weak economy. Again, I think Republicans would be, for the most part, willing to do more to help stimulate the economy. They aren't completely against Keynesian policies because they don't go through the mental transformation they did in response to Obama. But Democrats would most certainly be concerned about elections and thus eager to criticize McCain for not doing a good job on the economy. Or if they are in power, Democrats now have leverage to get the policies they want instead of just largely supporting McCain and Republicans' policies. Either that or they do what Republicans have done recently and just block everything McCain wants so that they can get even more electoral gains in the next election.

Chait's thesis probably works until we get to that last part, where he thinks McCain would have an easier time getting more stimulus the second time around. I think Democrats would make it difficult for McCain. And I'm not sure Republicans would have big enough majorities to get a lot done. Though maybe just a little would be more and better than what we are getting now and could get in the near future. This is all assuming McCain and Republicans would have done more than just cut taxes. Chait cites McCain's chief economic advisor's suggestions as evidence that they would have. But that's another big uncertainty in the thesis. In order to wrap this up, I'll give him that one. And overall I'd agree with Chait that at this point we would be ever so slightly less screwed economically had McCain won. But Obama still has time to turn things around. And we wouldn't have gotten the health care bill, which could be important for the economy in the long run. And even with a slightly better situation now, we would still be pretty screwed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Most of what I've read about the movement has tried to pin down exactly what the movement is about, what the message is, and who are the people that occupy it. It doesn't seem as coherent as the tea party was. I think that is because while the tea party was similar in its anger at the economic situation, its anger was directed narrowly on Obama and Democrats. And that's because the tea party was just the Republican base dressed up in a new name. So OWS seems to have a different makeup.

Just looking at its name, OWS is obviously focused on the financial institutions and their role in our current economic situation. And since this situation is crappy for a lot of people, it hasn't become very partisan, at least on the surface. So for that reason I have slowly become endeared with what they are doing. But like some in the media, I wanted to know more about what the movement wanted. So went to the Occupy Memphis site to see what they were up to.

What I found was two groups that I like to talk about a lot, liberals and libertarians. On the Occupy Memphis forum the most discussed topic is the Fed. A lot of the discussion is aimed at trying to focus the discussion elsewhere because the Fed is just one part of the problem. And that is something I agreed with, even though we should be pushing for the Fed to do more. But much of it is about the desire to end the Fed completely. While I'm sure some liberals want to do that, I think most of that sentiment is coming from libertarians. And this is where we get to that question of whether or not liberals and libertarians can find enough common ground to form a big enough group to get things done.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Before getting to last night's episode, I want to applaud NBC for finally letting Alison Brie get out there and promote the show. She was on the Today show yesterday and is on Jimmy Fallon tonight. As readers of this blog know, I absolutely adore Alison. She is gorgeous and talented. And when she isn't acting she seems very charming. And while I think Community is awesome enough to garner huge numbers of viewers on its own, I'm not above sending Alison out there in order to get viewers for the shallow reason of watching her be beautiful. And that's even more the case since Community doesn't get a lot of viewers.

Back to last night's episode, I didn't care for it. There were two main plots; Chang and the group. I enjoyed Chang for the first two seasons. He worked well as a peripheral character that interacted with the group in funny ways. But now in season three he seems to have taken on a role equivalent with the group. Last night he got as much screen time as the group. And while some parts of his story were funny, I just don't find it as compelling as the group or even the individuals within it. I'm not sure where they are going with his character, but I'm not sold it can be good if it continues to have little or nothing to do with the group.

The other plot involving the group didn't really work for me either. Basically they were being dysfunctional again and they had to find a way to solve the problem they created. I don't mind the tension. But they were being a little too confrontational with each other without being as funny, sweet, and charming as they have been. And there wasn't enough personality from any character to make me care about the current crisis. They all seem stereotypical of themselves and not really that involved

In relation to that, where in the hell have Troy and Abed been this season? They had fewer lines than Chang this episode. I think they have had fewer than him this season so far. That is criminal. I understand they don't want to make those two bigger than the group. But I don't think the group and the show can be as good as it can be without big efforts on the part of Troy and Abed. They are simply too funny. Though the funniest part of last night was the scene after the credits which is usually Troy and Abed time. This time it was Britta and she was seeing penises on the scantrons. If you aren't going to use Troy and Abed it better be that funny.

A (hopefully) last word on Palin

Once her and McCain lost the 08 election it was clear that the media was still obsessed with Palin. On one hand, she was a governor who had just run as VP. So its not like she wasn't a fairly high profile public official. And on top of that she was crazy and liked to demonstrate that fact by saying crazy things. A lot of people are good at doing that and generating media coverage.

But once she left office she should have become irrelevant. A half term governor of a reclusive state that is no longer actively running for a political office should not have gotten near the media coverage she did. I had a pretty solid idea why that was the case. And now I have some proof:

“We in the news business were her enablers, broadcasting her tweets, following her Facebooking, chasing after her aimless bus tours…What explains such behavior? Palin is box office. She drives traffic and ratings.”

As I said, I don't think the coverage of her during the campaign was too far off base. But once that ended there was no reason to keep up the overbearing coverage of her other than to fuel their own interest in ratings and thus profit. And as McGinnis points out, that is a dangerous thing for our country. The media is supposed to keep watch on the gov't. But in Palin's case, it enabled a crazy person to take advantage of the country for her own personal gain.

So when we look back on the ridiculousness that is Sarah Palin, the media should be a big part of the story. After McCain and the leadership of the GOP, then the conservative base, the media should be blamed for us having to endure this insane chapter in American politics. And we should keep this in mind when we think about everything the media does. Because sadly its at least as much about profit as it is getting to the truth and being a check on the gov't. And as Glenn Greenwald consistently points out, that is why we continue to fight unending wars and high level public officials and Wall Street can run afoul of the law without being punished.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

South Park is back

With the last episode they did, it would have been really hard to ignore that story and just jump back into the world of South Park as if nothing happened. So I was glad they picked up where they left off, with Stan suffering from being a cynical asshole, something I often encounter in my life. But just like the season opener of Community, this episode seemed to suffer from the constraint of having to resolve a story it left open months ago.

And like Community's opener, I thought this was just an ok episode. It was only kind of funny. The spoof of the Matrix wasn't that funny to me. And the Aspergers thing wasn't funny at all. Though in typical South Park fashion, they have Stan come to a realization that could change things and make things better only to immediately go the other direction. While it seems like after what happened things may go back to normal, I hope they don't complete ignore this story because it seems like the cynicism thing is part of who they are and why people like me love the show.

Steve Jobs

I don't know much about Steve Jobs. But I love his company and the products it made. And from what I've heard, he was a big reason for Apple's success. So I want to thank Jobs for being innovative and running his company well. I've had my iphone for three years. Its obviously a great product. I've never had a problem with it. I've had my macbook pro for about a year and a half. And I really enjoy it as well. And I've had my iphone for so long that I forgot about much I loved my ipod. It sucks to hear that he died at a fairly young age. But he seemed to make his time count for something. So thanks again. Hopefully he inspires others.

Palin not running

Some would argue that it would be a good thing if she ran and won the GOP primary because Obama would beat her. Even with a crappy economy, I think Obama would have a good chance, assuming she would have been able to win the primary. But to me that would be too big of a risk to take. She is way too crazy to even be given the shot at beating Obama. So I think for the most part I'm glad to hear this news. And here's hoping she goes away and we never hear from her again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rhetoric and evidence

Republicans are really good at coming up with rhetoric and sticking to it. Take class warfare as an example. If you have listened to any Republican over the past few weeks you almost certainly heard them use that phrase. Mitt Romney came out today and said the Wall Street protests were "dangerous" and "class warfare". I'm not sure what his conception of dangerous is. But that doesn't matter. They research these phrases and stick to them in order to create and drive the narrative they want. And that serves to drive public opinion to their side.

Another instance of rhetoric is Republican insistence that gov't regulations are killing jobs. I must have heard that phrase at least 20 times today on CSPAN. They just repeated it over and over. Its one thing to say that tax plans or whatever other policy they dislike is class warfare. That's something that is hard to quantify and is mostly a statement of opinion. But when they claim regulations are killing jobs that is something we can quantify. We can test whether its true or not.

Bruce Bartlett does the legwork for us:

The table below presents the bureau’s data. As one can see, the number of layoffs nationwide caused by government regulation is minuscule and shows no evidence of getting worse during the Obama administration. Lack of demand for business products and services is vastly more important.

These results are supported by surveys. During June and July, Small Business Majority asked 1,257 small-business owners to name the two biggest problems they face. Only 13 percent listed government regulation as one of them. Almost half said their biggest problem was uncertainty about the future course of the economy — another way of saying a lack of customers and sales.

The Wall Street Journal’s July survey of business economists found, “The main reason U.S. companies are reluctant to step up hiring is scant demand, rather than uncertainty over government policies, according to a majority of economists.”

Academic research has also failed to find evidence that regulation is a significant factor in unemployment. In a blog post on Sept. 5, Jay Livingston, a sociologist at Montclair State University, hypothesized that if regulation were a major problem it would show up in the unemployment rates of industries where regulation has been increasing: the financial sector, medical care and mining/fuel extraction. He found that unemployment rates in these sectors were actually well below the national average. Unemployment is much higher in those industries that one would expect to suffer most from a lack of aggregate demand: construction, leisure and hospitality, business services, wholesale and retail trade, and durable goods.

As I suspected, the evidence doesn't really back up the rhetoric. Usually this isn't a big deal. But this type of rhetoric is the reason for Republicans' policy decisions. And its wrong. But they continue to repeat it as though its true beyond all doubt. What liberals need to do is call them out on the fact that they are wrong and either use that correction as the new narrative or pivot off the correction and create one of their own. Maybe then Republicans won't constantly drive narratives and potentially influence public opinion.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Slow blogging

I had a relatively crappy week when it came to keeping up with blogging. Now that I intern in a political office I'm a little less inclined to come home and think and write about politics. And I guess nothing caught my attention enough during last week to make me want to write. Then came the weekend and the onset of my sinus headaches.

For a few months during the year, when the weather starts changing, my sinuses start acting up and I get a headache every day unless I take something. I have to get the over the counter stuff that you have to sign for so that they can stop people from making illegal drugs with the ingredients. I started taking it over the weekend and it hasn't really helped. In fact, I have a headache right now.

Enough about my problems. It still seems a bit slow on the politics front. I'm already tired of the Republican primary. Most of them are crazy. And the ones that aren't are trying to say crazy things in order to get elected.

The biggest story is that we killed an American citizen who had joined al Qaeda. And we did so with little to no due process and without out the decision makers being held accountable. Basically they just proved they can label someone a terrorist and kill them any time they want. That's dangerous. I think we need some sort of due process attributed to these people we are labeling terrorists. And we need some sort of check in place to make sure power isn't abused and people are held accountable for mistakes.

On the sports front, it was a bad week. This may be another reason I wasn't in a posting mood. The Braves blew a huge lead in the wild card, and in a dramatically crappy way on the last game of the season. And the Dolphins continue to be the way I described them in my last post. When does college basketball start?