Friday, April 29, 2011

Memphis Grizzlies advance

Game 6 went about the same way as every other game of the series. Memphis built a solid lead early. The Spurs cut into it at some point in the second half. But down the stretch the Grizzlies made free throws and kept playing the great defense they did the whole series.

Randolf was simply fantastic. Gasol was solid. Battier, Allen and Young were good defensively. And Conley did a very good job playing point guard. I went to the first two games at the Forum in Memphis and the crowd was great. I assume they were just as good tonight. So I'm really proud of the whole team and all of the fans. Memo to owners of small markets: If your team wins the fans will come and you will make money. Crazy stuff, right?

Its hard to expect Memphis to beat the Thunder. I think we can make things difficult for Durant. But they are a really solid team. But as along as we play hard I'll be happy.

Quick update on the Dolphins. They traded up into the second round to take Daniel Thomas, a running back out of Kansas State. I thought they would take a running back at some point. And I'm glad they did because it is a need. I also thought this pick could have been Ryan Mallet. But clearly they are comfortable with Chad Henne or a veteran they think they can get in free agency. I don't blame them for not taking Mallet. But watch now that he went to the Patriots. He will probably turn out to be great.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dolphins pick Mike Pouncey

I think this is the first time I've talked about the Miami Dolphins on my blog. The Dolphins are my number one sports team. They are a frustrating team to follow but I love them.

They went with a safe pick in the center from Florida. Center was an uncertain position for us last year. There were a lot of injuries and inconsistent play. And I think that was a big reason why we were so bad at running the ball. I say its a safe pick because in general an offensive linemen is going to be a decent pro if he was a good college player, which I think most draft people would say he was.

The same was the case for Jake Long, who the Dolphins took number one overall a few years ago. Everyone thought Long would be at least a solid pro. He has turned out to be a great pro. And while many like to say we should have taken Matt Ryan, its far less certain Ryan would have been a good player than it was that Long would.

I have no idea if the Dolphins wanted to take a QB. But if they did I'm sure they were using the same thought process. Its much more difficult to say that Mallet and Kaepernick will be good QBs than it is to say that Pouncey will be a good center/guard. And they could very well think Chad Henne is still the answer at QB. While I'm very skeptical about Henne at this point, there is a strong argument to be made that he was not put in the best situation(s) to succeed, and part of that was the poor running game.

So all in all I think its a good pick. I would certainly be more excited if they would have taken a QB or Mark Ingram. But the risk would have been very big with a QB and even though Ingram should be a very good RB I don't think that is a position that warrents spending a high first round pick on (unless you know you have a Barry Sanders type player). Though I do look for them to take a RB later in the draft. I'm not sure QB is out of the picture later in the draft as well. What is certain is that they have will have a good left side of the offensive line with Long, Ingocnito, and now Pouncey. If we get that there won't be many more excuses for Henne and the running game.

Sarah Palin, Independent candidate for President

This is where my mind wonders while I'm shaving. For her, its a way to stay in the spotlight without having to do all the legwork that a serious candidate would have to do to get the Republican nomination. As Jonathan Bernstein points out on his blog (linked to on the side of my blog as 'A Plain Blog About Politics), she hasn't been willing to do those things that a candidate typically has to do to get the Rep nomination.

And what else is Palin but non-typical? She also came into the national spotlight as a fellow maverick along side John McCain. Bucking the traditional path as the Republican nominee would fit with that narrative. She could sit by while the Reps are having their primary debates and pick her spots when she wants to insert herself into discussions. She would have the pulpit of Fox News to be able to do that effectively.

The big problem here is that she would have no chance at winning the presidency. Whereas if she were to somehow get the Republican nomination she would have a pretty good chance at winning. Plus I think its possible that she is popular enough with conservatives that if she were to do this she would draw a lot of votes away from the Rep who actually had a chance to win.

So the only way this is possible is if she is convinced she can't win the Rep nomination and thinks she has something to benefit from running, be that more time in the spotlight or kind of a f-you to the party. Of course, this is all just crazy rambling on my part and it has about as much chance at happening as I have at getting a date with Kristin Kreuk. Coming back to reality, I think Palin will be happy to keep cashing checks from Fox News and the speaking circuit. Those things will probably be enough to satisfy her need for the spotlight and a big bank account. Plus it would leave open the possibility of running in 2016 if Obama were to win in 2012.

But if she was really serious about governing and making public policy I think this would be a bold move that would at least net her some concessions with a party that would be scared that she could cost them a lot of votes. The Republican party would have no choice but to concede to her demands. And I think that is what intrigues me the most about this and probably why I thought of it in the first place. She is much more popular than Ralph Nader and probably Ross Perot. Being the plurality system we are the US, those candidates weren't popular enough to draw a significant enough portion of the votes away from the main candidates so that they had to do something to get them out of the race.

That is why the US has been only a two party system. Its just way to hard on a national level to win an election with a smaller coalition than two parties. So the political scientist in me wants to test this with a person who has a strong base that likes her personally.

Is Obama a moderate Republican from the 90s?

That is what Ezra Klein says. Andrew Sullivan has a roundup of the discussion here. Ezra is certainly right that some of the policies Obama has embraced fit very well with what a moderate Republican at that time would have embraced. And Dave Roberts gets a lot right about the Republicans of today:

Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They've realized that their rhetoric doesn't have to bear any connection to their policy agenda. They can go through different slogans, different rationales, different fights, depending on the political landscape of the moment. They need not feel bound by previous slogans, rationales, or fights. They've realized that policy is policy and politics is politics and they can push for the former while waging the latter battle on its own terms. The two have become entirely unmoored.

So it's not that they "moved right" on some policy spectrum when Obama took office. They just adopted a new political strategy, namely total, unremitting, hysterical oppositionalism.

I think they are both missing something. Its hard to know exactly what Obama's policy preferences are. Though I don't think it would be unfair to say that personally he is a little more liberal than he is as the president. Though I say that judging from his campaign and that could have certainly been political rhetoric and not everything he believes personally.

But the point is that Obama as a president appears to be a moderate Republican from the 90s because he has to get moderate Democrats in Congress, and especially the Senate, to support bills. I would wager that those moderate Democrats are the ones that more closely mirror moderate Republicans of the 90s. Obama just looks like he does because he is more concerned about governing than he is about waging ideological warfare from the oval office. And that's why many of us liberals are disappointed in many of his policies.

And while I agree with Roberts that the policy of Republicans at this moment is oppositionalism, even they won't take this to its extreme. If Obama came out tomorrow and said that he supports even further reducing taxes they wouldn't take the opposition to that policy just for the sake of being oppositional. If he came out and said he will vote for Paul Ryan's budget and he will tell Dems in Congress to pass it they won't all of the sudden jump off the Ryan ship. So at some point there is a liberal policy and a conservative policy. And while some instances like cap and trade seem to be completely about oppositionalism, there are limits to what policies each party will embrace. And perhaps the biggest limit on that is the size of the majorities in Congress.

Update on the storms in the mid south

I woke up for the second time in three days to tornado warning sirens. It turns out that all of the sirens in Shelby county are linked together. So if one little part of the county is under a warning then every siren in the county goes off.

Today the southeastern corner of the county was under a tornado warning. So the rest of us got to hear a solid 15 minutes of a siren, which is about a 10 minute walk from my house. Its slightly odd that the sirens would be linked considering it would take me at least an hour to drive from Millington in the northern part of the county to Collierville in the part part of the county they had the warning today.

But I guess its better safe than sorry. While I haven't heard of any tornadoes touching down or causing any damage around the Memphis area we did get a ton of rain and I know the Mississippi is running very high.

What I'd like to know is why we are getting so much severe weather lately. Is this a symptom of global warming? Or is it just a slightly increase in severe activity? I ask because I don't recall seeing this much severe weather on this frequent a basis. If this is the beginning of a trend I hope the damage is limited. I also hope we can get some sort of movement on global warming policies even if this weather isn't a result of it.

Posting on things I don't want to post on

How do you discuss something that you don't think should be part of a discussion in the first place? Most of the time I choose to just ignore that issue and wait for it to go away. That is what Jonathan Bernstein advises about the whole birther/Trump thing lately which for some reason prompted Obama to release his long form birth certificate.

I think Jonathan is right. Trump is an egomaniac who is using the media's desperate need for ratings to kick up ridiculous conspiracy theories. I'm not sure why Obama chose now to address them. And I doubt it will change a lot of their minds.

Having said that have I not now joined the discussion? Have I given credence to Trump and birthers that they don't deserve? I think I have. But as long as I'm writing about it I feel like the best I can do is to reiterate what Jonathan suggests and just advise people to ignore this type of stuff. Trump is just getting his rocks off. The media is just selling ads. The right is just making itself feel scared of its opposition. And I don't know what Obama is doing. None of it matters. So let's move on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Braves lineup

Just after I criticized Freddi Gonzalez for keeping Jason Heyward sixth in the lineup he moved him up to second where he belongs. Heyward has been struggling recently but its still the right move. What I'd like to know is why it took so long for it to happen. Did he really think McClouth could handle that spot in the lineup? Did he really think Heyward wouldn't get on base more often than McClouth and thus give more opportunities for Chipper and McCann to drive in runs?

I'm not sure but I'm glad he made the change. You can question a ton of decisions a manager has to make over the course of a game, series, or year. But this is the king of thing that shouldn't have been that difficult.

While I'm discussing sports, I have to mention how well the Grizzlies have been playing. They destroyed the Spurs last night and now only need one more win to move on to the second round. I've been really impressed by how well Mike Conley has played in his first playoff series. He handles the ball a ton and does a good job of getting the ball to the big men and scoring when the defense gives him open looks. Perhaps the new deal he signed wasn't a bad move by the front office.

More storms come through

We've had some really severe thunder storms hit Memphis the past few days. Tonight we got at least an hour's worth of tornado warning sirens. I've joked before about those things being an infringement on my liberty. But damn they are annoying.

But not so annoying that I would say we don't need them because there isn't another reliable way to be warned. My internet goes in and out during severe storms. I'm kind of surprised it isn't doing it right now. And Directv is absolute shit when we get anything above a sprinkle. In fact, its out right now. I get to see the lovely Olivia Munn on The Daily Show and half the time I can't get a signal. I think we should be reimbursed by internet and cable/satellite providers for losses of signal.

Speaking of liberty, I wanted to briefly talk about Vermont passing a single payer health care system. Now, I'm not a big fan of states rights. There are many things states should be able to do on their own. But on a basic level I don't see many compelling reasons to believe states are better guardians of freedom than the federal gov't. At the very least history seems to have borne that out here in the US.

The reason I mention this is because conservatives claim to be big fans of states rights. And they also don't like single payer health care systems. They view that as socialist and thus not conducive to liberty. But Vermont is using its ability as a somewhat sovereign entity and implementing this policy. So my question to conservatives would be how do you feel for the people of Vermont? They elected these people who chose to pass this bill. I guess if they don't like it they can vote them out of office and vote for people who will rescind the bill. But I bet they end up liking it almost as much as the people of Massachusetts like their individual mandate system.

So as a conservative, would you feel bad for these people who have to live with socialist health care? And if so, if you think the liberty of these people is being infringed, what do you think should happen? Essentially what I'm asking is where is the line when it comes to states rights and when that line is crossed, who or what gets to step in and make things better for the people?

Obviously my answer is the federal gov't. Though I wouldn't even get that far because I'm not sure how single payer health care is an infringement on their liberty. But if someone could convince me that it was, I would look to the federal gov't for remedy, or I guess the Vermont judicial branch first.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The debt ceiling and democracy

Matt Yglesias pointed out today that Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) won't vote to raise the debt ceiling unless we enact a cap on federal spending, which he believes should be at 20.6% of the GDP. I live in TN so I sent Senator Corker an email voicing my disagreement with his stance. Here it is:

Hi Senator Corker,

I just wanted to let you know that I disagree with your decision to not support raising the debt ceiling unless federal spending is capped at about 20% of GDP.

First of all, we are still at about 9% unemployment. I have a masters degree and I have been trying to find a job for almost a year now. There are many people like me out there. The economy is still on shaky ground and therefore now is not the time to worry about the deficit. Plus inflation is low and interest rates are low. So this talk about short term deficits from both parties is just hampering discussion on how to grow the economy.

But when it comes to the medium and long term deficit I don't think a spending cap fully addresses the issue, not to mention it would limit our ability to deal with future recessions. If we are serious about the deficit we should also be looking at revenue along with spending. If we were to enact a spending cap without addressing revenue, which is well below average then you don't really close the gap between the spending and revenue, thus keeping in place a deficit.

If we are serious about cutting the deficit to manageable levels we must address revenue. And without raising the debt ceiling our economy will be even worse off than it is now and revenue will drop even further, raising the deficit even more. And worst of all, unemployment will get worse and people like me will find it even more difficult to find a job.

So I urge you to simply raise the debt ceiling and focus on growing the economy right now. The deficit can wait. People without jobs can't wait much longer.

Thanks for your time,
David Plunk

Democracy in action. Of course, one of the unique features of American democracy is the fact that my email probably won't change his mind because there are many more Republicans in TN than there are Democrats like me, which is to say that it takes a large number of people to get things done in our political system. But at least his staff knows there is someone out there who doesn't agree with him that could not vote for him and convince others to not vote for him too. That's something, kind of.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Jason Heyward still batting 6th in Braves lineup

This has finally been getting talked about this week. But the people on tv talking about it are still missing one big point. Most of them say they have talked to some stats guys and they tell them that batting 2nd in the lineup as opposed to 6th in the lineup would get a hitter about 80 more at bats over the course of a season.

That's an important point. Heyward is one of the Braves best hitters. You want your best hitters to get to the plate as often as possible. Some of the analysts agreed with my opinion on opening day that Heyward should be batting 2nd or even 3rd.

But Tim McCarver and the guys on Fox today pretty much disregarded what the stats say and sided with Fredi Gonzalez mostly because he has played the game and stat geeks haven't. To be a bit fair, they did acknowledge what the stat guys have found which is that lineups don't really account for a big difference in runs over the course of a season. But a few runs could lead to a game or two. And that game or two could be the difference between making the playoffs and not.

The other big point everyone missed is that Heyward gets on base more often than McClouth and every other Braves hitter. If Hewyard were to get 80 more at bats hitting 2nd and he got on base 40% of the time like he did last season that means he would be on base 32 more times than if he was batting 6th in the lineup.

Nate McClouth, the current #2 guy in the lineup, is a career .336 OBP. That's not good, terrible for a hitter so high in the lineup. The plain and simple fact is that he will not get on base in front of Chipper Jones as often as Heyward would. Part of the reasoning from Gonzalez was that he wanted McClouth to see more fastballs in front of Chipper. Well, why not let Heyward, the better hitter see more fastballs? And if they are afraid to pitch to him, that means he might get on base even more often than 40% of the time. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Apparently Gonzalez didn't pick up many pointers when he went to a sabermetric convention last season.

One comment from the incredibly annoying Tim McCarver (I went to the same high school in Memphis as he did) I want to address. He said that if you get more at bats batting higher in the order then why don't you bat Albert Pujols leadoff? Well smartass. You don't bat him leadoff because you want him to have as many opportunities as possible to drive in runs. The leadoff batter will not have as many men on base as the third hitter will because he has the worse hitters in the lineup hitting in front of him. Hell, that's conventional baseball wisdom. Am I'm sure he knows that. He just wanted to make fun of stats guys because he can't summon the energy to think and use some logic while getting paid to give an opinion on air.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The benefit of a 'Do Nothing Congress'

President Obama made a speech about a budget that he proposed. Here is a side by side comparison of his and Paul Ryan's. Obviously its better than Ryan's. And many liberals think its acceptable. But it still buys into this notion that we have to freak out about the deficit right now. And as I've said before on this blog, there is not a very compelling reason to do that.

Ezra Klein even makes a good point today by stating that even if a massive deficit reducing budget was passed tomorrow, actually implementing it would depend on congresses years down the road. And that's a shaky proposition at best.

One good thing from Obama's proposal is the idea of letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those making $250,000 and above (Remember, they would still get the cut on all income up to that amount. They would only see the increase on all income over that amount). I'll remain skeptical that Obama would actually go through with that. And of course as Ezra points out, it will depend on congress.

But the idea of letting those tax cuts expire leads me to this column by Annie Lowrey in which she says that instead of congress and Obama freaking out about the deficit they should just do nothing.

One might think that we need all of these big plans, these grand bargains, because of the enormity of the fiscal challenge the country faces. The United States is swimming in a sea of red ink, with trillion-dollar annual deficits and an unfathomably gigantic cumulative debt.

But the truth is we don't need any of these plans. Every one of them is entirely unnecessary for balancing the budget and eventually reducing the debt. They may even be counterproductive. Thus, Slate proposes the Do-Nothing Plan for Deficit Reduction, a meek, cowardly effort to wrest the country back into the black. The overarching principle of the Do-Nothing Plan is this: Leave everything as is. Current law stands, and spending and revenue levels continue according to the Congressional Budget Office's baseline projections. Everyone walks away. Paul Ryan goes fishing. Sen. Harry Reid kicks back with a ginger ale. The rest of Congress gets back to bickering about mammograms. Miraculously, the budget just balances itself, in about a decade.

So how does doing nothing actually return the budget to health? The answer is that doing nothing allows all kinds of fiscal changes that politicians generally abhor to take effect automatically. First, doing nothing means the Bush tax cuts would expire, as scheduled, at the end of next year. That would cause a moderately progressive tax hike, and one that hits most families, including the middle class. The top marginal rate would rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, and some tax benefits for investment income would disappear. Additionally, a patch to keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting 20 million or so families would end. Second, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama's health care law, would proceed without getting repealed or defunded. The CBO believes that the plan would bend health care's cost curve downward, wrestling the rate of health care inflation back toward the general rate of inflation. Third, doing nothing would mean that Medicare starts paying doctors low, low rates. Congress would not pass anymore of the regular "doc fixes" that keep reimbursements high. Nothing else happens. Almost magically, everything evens out.

This is very unlikely to happen. But I think its important to think about as long as everyone in Washington is freaking out over deficits and proposing massive changes in policy without even really understanding or caring about what they are reacting to. When you hear politicians or pundits saying we have to address the deficit problem you can just tell them to go join Donald Trump's investigators on a vacation to Hawaii and the 'problem' will largely just take care of itself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Slow starts in baseball

That was the topic on "1st and 10" today. Let me ask you who you trust more to have a good season. Here are the career averages for each player and their current ages.

Player A: .330 BA, .424 OBP, .622 SLG, 42 HR, 127 RBI, age 31

Player B: .313 BA, .384 OBP, .452 SLG, 16 HR, 80 RBI, age 37

Which player do you think will have a better season? Which one do you think will come closer to matching their career averages? I think the answer is easily player A. Player A is Albert Pujols and Player B is Derek Jeter. Sure Pujols is in a contract year. But that should be even more reason he will do better.

The biggest factor is their age. Pujols is just coming out of his prime, possibly still in it. Jeter is well past his which was evidenced by his worst season of his career last year.

Yet both Jamelle Hill and Skip Bayless said they were more concerned about Albert Pujols. Most of their reasoning has to do with the contract thing with Pujols. But I think part of it is the Derek Jeter mystique. They both buy into the media created myth that Jeter is the second greatest thing to ever put on a Yankee uniform. But as any objective observer will note by looking at those numbers I posted, he isn't even that close to being as good as the best player in the game right now.

It would be shocking if Pujols didn't hit .300, get on base 40% of the time, hit 30 HRs, and drive in 100 runs. It wouldn't be shocking if Jeter didn't match his career averages because he didn't do so just last season. And he only got older since then. Its ridiculous to be more worried about Pujols than Jeter. But that's what happens when talking about "The Captain". Logic is like a breaking ball that is bounced in front of the plate.

Random thoughts from Monday night

Alyson Hannigan gets more beautiful with every passing episode of "How I Met Your Mother". Decent episode tonight. Glad Marshall finally quit his job.

"Chuck" does just enough with Sarah and Chuck's relationship to keep me coming back. Cute moment tonight was Chuck giving Sarah a pre-nup stating that she had to love him and she couldn't think about divorce. And yeah, Yvonne Strahovski continues to be incredibly sexy.

I hate the Patriots and the way the media talks about Tom Brady (who is overrated as a QB). But his interview on Sportscenter about being drafted in the 6th round was really good. He talked about how he waited for so long and teared up when mentioning how his parents were there to support him. That and the fact that he worked his ass off to become a great player make me like him as a person. Plus he is rocking the long hair, which I respect and currently envy.

I totally agree with this Matt Yglesias post on the importance of grades in college. I worried about grades in college but I never obsessed over them. I think its much more important to learn how to think than it is to memorize facts and make sure you get a good grade. I wish there was more emphasis on thinking on all levels of education.

One thing I very slightly disagree with Yglesias on is his claim that spending a fair amount of time watching Elimidate is not an activity associated with any large future payoffs. I agree with the Elimidate part. But I think spending your leisure time watching tv/movies has at least some benefit. Not only does it give your mind a break from heavy academic stuff, it can help you make friends in the workplace who might share your tastes and even help serve as a good barometer for significant others. If the person you are dating doesn't at least tolerate your love of Star Wars and Joss Whedon its probably not meant to last.

Back to the topic of hair...I have a haircut appointment tomorrow and I'm not sure which direction I want to go. I want to go either kind of long or really short. Realistically I probably can't go long because I need to find and maintain a job. But I just can't totally suppress that feeling of freedom that having long hair provides.

Lays ranch dip is incredible.

A lot of how I judge a restaurant is based on how good their dip is. Top dips: Chili's queso, Rudy Tuesday's queso, Houston's spinach and artichoke. One of my grad school professors makes a spinach and artichoke dip that rivals Houston's.

I was humming Judas Priest's "Painkiller" to my nephew all weekend. That song is epic.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Shutdown avoided

Both parties have agreed to fund the gov't for this year. Apparently Republicans agreed to drop the controversial 'riders' attached to the funding bill and Democrats agreed to cut more funding than they initially said they wanted.

So while both sides conceded things, which is how negotiations have to end, it seems like Republicans got more of what they wanted than Democrats did. And certainly conservatives got more of what they wanted than liberals did. Though I'm sure conservatives think it still wasn't enough. After all, many conservatives don't think the federal gov't should do anything at all. So they would have been happy with a shutdown.

I say conservatives won because they believe that the deficit is the biggest problem we have right now. And a lot of why they believe that is they use the size of the deficit as sort of a measure of how big gov't is. If there is a big deficit, as there is now, that means the gov't is too big. Of course, when there was a surplus they also argued that gov't was too big and used it as justification for their tax cuts and reckless Fed policies. But that's another story.

Liberals on the other hand believe (or at least should) that while the deficit is a problem that needs to be addressed in the future, the high unemployment rate is a much bigger problem at the moment. And the gov't can do a lot to help bring unemployment down and get the economy back on a better track. Much of that would involve spending money and running up deficits. This is pretty standard economic theory as far as I can tell. But if it isn't for some reason I'm not aware of that doesn't mean Republicans have had a problem adhering to some economic theory that holds that gov't shouldn't run a deficit because they have done so since Reagan.

What I'd really like to know is if Republicans, or even just Boehner, ever seriously thought they would get to defund Planned Parenthood, NPR, and part of the EPA. I'm sure on some level the tea party types in the House and Senate really wanted it and thought they might get it. But Boehner is a very savvy politician. He knows those things are difficult at best to sell to a Democratic Senate and White House. Regardless of how likely they thought those things would be to pass, the fact that they put them in there and stuck by them seemed to be a smart negotiating strategy.

They could act like they were things they really wanted and a deal wouldn't be reached without them. Dems would then know that if they didn't address those things they would be risking a shutdown, which is something they really wanted to avoid. Reps also know that Dems already agree to most of the spending cuts that Reps want. So all they have to do is say, "Well ok, we will drop these riders that we know you hate if you go up just a bit more on total spending cuts." Then if Dems don't agree you can go to the media and tell the public that they tried to compromise and take the riders out but Dems just want to spend the people's money and make the country go broke.

I know there is polling showing that most liberals and independents want Democrats to compromise. But I don't think that means Democrats can't adopt some of the negotiating strategies that Republicans use.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Joss Whedon's feminist cred

Natasha Simons has a post up arguing that Joss Whedon isn't quite the feminist icon that the fans make him out to be. Shani Hilton has a response arguing that while Joss isn't a great feminist he is still pretty good.

I'm not a feminism expert by any stretch. But I agree with Hilton. And I'd direct you to that link to address most of the shows, characters, and situations that Simons brings up. One point I wanted to address is Firefly and the character of Inara.

Inara is a companion. In the world of Firefly, this is a job that is essentially a prostitute. Modern prostitution is not a glamorous job. Here in the US it is not a morally acceptable job aside from in Nevada. And even then the vast majority of women don't really want to have it as a career. That is even more so the case in states where its illegal. And across most of the rest of the world its even less the case that its not a good job. Its actually something that many women are forced into by either poor economies or coercion.

But in Firefly a companion is a very glamorous position. Inara is considered to be very highly educated and highly skilled. As we see in the episode "Train Job" even people in planets outside the central planets respect companions. We see on several occasions Kaylee wishing she had Inara's job. And even Zoe doesn't seem to have any objections to what Inara does. Though she does object strongly to Saffron's maid-like behavior towards Mal.

So why do I think this illustrates Whedon's feminist cred? A big part of it has to do with choice. I'd assume that for the vast majority of women in the world that work as prostitutes it is not a choice in the same sense that someone chooses to become a teacher or a lawyer. As I said, many women are forced into doing it. And in performing their job they often run into problems with abuse in various forms. But for Inara, she not only (presumably) chose her profession, she chooses who she wants to perform her job with. She doesn't have sex purely for money. She chooses to have sex with people because they will either pleasure her directly or indirectly in that it pleases her to satisfy their desires.

A big part of feminism (at least in my mind) is that notion of choice. For so long women didn't have many choices when it came to things involving sex and careers. So when it comes to feminism in Firefly I think its a good thing when a woman can choose to become a mechanic, fight in a war, or become a prostitute who can fulfill her sexual desires in a safe environment.

I struggle with the question of given the amount of safety that Inara seems to enjoy when performing her job, who wouldn't want to have her job? Everyone enjoys sex right? If I could have people willing to pay me to have sex with them and I could pretty much choose who I want to engage with I think that would be a career worth strongly thinking about entering. Perhaps that is a result of my experience as a man. So I would love to her from some women about this subject.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

You can't divorce politics from policy

Andrew Sullivan has a post up complaining that Obama and the Dems are going to use the Ryan proposal in campaigns instead of taking it seriously as a policy proposal and working on a negotiation or counter-proposal. Part of why Sullivan is disappointed with Obama and the Dems is that he believes reducing the deficit is very important for the immediate future. Thus neither side should be playing politics with this serious issue.

But as Matthew Yglesias points out, the deficit isn't that serious of an issue at this moment or in the immediate future. He likens it to the effects of climate change. Those effects won't become an immediate threat until a few decades down the road. Because the threat is so far off not many politicians take it seriously and have the will to do something about it now. In much the same way, the deficit is not an immediate threat. The country isn't going to "go broke" and inflation is still low while unemployment is still high.

Obviously there are things we should be spending less money on, two wars for instance. But the problem with the economy and our country is that there isn't enough money being spent and thus not enough people being hired. But unlike climate change the future problem of the deficit is being discussed as a significant threat at this moment and politicians are working to reduce it right now.

I think a big reason for that on the Republican side of things is that its an excuse for them to achieve some of their high priority policy agendas. The first being lower taxes for rich people. Ryan's plan is chalk full of even more tax cuts for rich people and corporations. The second big agenda is to get rid of, or at least scale back entitlement programs. While Sullivan views this plan purely in the realm of policy its obviously also about politics. He proposed the plan because its politically advantageous for him to do so. Its what his constituents and at least a small portion of his party want.

Much of Sullivan's distaste for the Democratic response to the proposal was a claim that Dems would use it to campaign on. Well, does Sullivan not think Republicans will do the same? Ryan and other Reps will most certainly campaign on the fact that they provided Obama and the Dems a plan to get things under control and because Obama and Dems hate America they didn't go along with it.

I agree with Sullivan that Dems should take this seriously from a policy perspective. But I don't think they should ignore the politics side of it. It would be bad to not take it seriously as policy. But it would be just about as bad to ignore the politics of this, have it hurt them in the next election, and as a result let the other party implement their policies. And despite what Sullivan thinks about the Ryan proposal, its not certain that what Reps would implement would solve the problems Sullivan wants solved. In fact, the past 30 years of Republican rule have only exacerbated the problems.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Paul Ryan's budget proposal

A short version of the proposal is here.

The problem with his proposal is that its a typically Republican view of what gov't should do. Its all about making sure taxes for rich people are as low as they think people will tolerate while spending as little on entitlements that they also think people will tolerate.

I don't support the proposal for two reasons. One is I don't think its necessary to cut spending right now. In fact it can be argued that we need more spending in the immediate future. And the second is that I think we can reform social security, medicare, medicaid, and the entire tax code without draconian cuts that hurt poor people while not asking the rich and the currently old population to sacrifice anything (aside from the old people that would be hurt by the medicaid cuts).

I'm not thrilled with the way anyone has handled the budget. Obama continues to add to an unnecessarily costly defense/foreign policy budget all the while extending tax cuts for rich people. Those are the first two things I would look at if I was doing a budget. After that I would look at the big three entitlement programs.

I'm not certain what I'd do with SS. But I'm pretty sure it would not involve raising the retirement age like most in DC want to do. Or I would at least not raise it for people below a certain income. For medicare and medicaid I'm a lot less sure about what I'd do. But I very likely wouldn't privatize medicare and then cut people checks as a % of GDP so that they can give part of that money to private insurance companies.

One funny thing about this is the Constitutional amendment that Republicans in the Senate support might make Ryan's budget unconstitutional.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What has changed in the post-crash economy?

A few years ago we had to give banks money so that they wouldn't collapse and thus threaten to send the entire global economy into chaos. These banks and the entire financial industry had played a big part in causing the recession. So after giving them money, a lot of which was paid back, and having technically come out of the recession they helped cause how are things going with the economy and the financial industry now?

Last year CEO pay went up 27% while worker pay went up 2%. And in the financial sector, the 25 highest paid hedge fund managers earned $22 billion last year.

So things seem to be back on track for the rich and for most of the financial industry. But apparently it isn't enough. Bankers are still complaining about the financial regulations that were passed after the crash.

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, launched a broadside against financial regulation on Wednesday, warning that new capital rules could be “the nail in our coffin for big American banks”. [...]

Mr Dimon’s comments come as Wall Street executives and Republican members of Congress are starting to attack regulation as anger at the financial industry subsides. On Tuesday, Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, wrote in the Financial Times that the Dodd-Frank financial reforms risked creating “the largest regulatory-induced market distortion since America’s ill-fated imposition of wage and price controls in 1971”.

Spencer Bachus, the Republican chairman of the House financial services committee, has said that regulators are there to “serve” the banks and warned the Treasury not to hurt Goldman Sachs’ shareholders when it writes new rules implementing Dodd-Frank.

Billionaires complain that things are too hard for them. All the while Wall Street is seeing record profits:

“But in the last quarter of 2010, the story was all about Wall Street. Profits actually decreased a bit at nonfinancial firms. But companies like investment banks and insurers saw profits climb to an annualized $426.5 billion.”

Republicans are doing all they can to stop the enforcement of those financial regulations at the same time that they didn't raise taxes on the rich, complain about a budget deficit that low taxes exacerbates, cut funding for things like Planned Parenthood and NPR that have basically zero impact on the deficit, and trying to bust unions.

All of this is happening while unemployment is still at 9%. The rich, and specifically the rich that make up the financial industry, are enjoying raises in their pay and record profits while the pay for everyone else is pretty stagnant and a big percentage of the country can't get a job. How is this acceptable the American people? How can they vote for a Republican party that wants this very thing to happen, for rich people to benefit while everyone else suffers or just stays the same?

Kevin Drum has some thoughts that sum up this whole situation:

It's only been two years since the Great Collapse, and finance industry profits have already rebounded to their bubble-era levels. That's a strong sign that finance industry leverage is also returning to its bubble-era levels, which in turn means the industry is about as dangerous as it's ever been. And Dodd-Frank is a notably weak piece of regulation, about as weak as any bill could be and still be called regulatory reform in the first place. Wall Street got off easy, and Dimon knows it.

Years ago I remember a lot of moderate liberals talking about how the Bush era radicalized them. For me, it was the economic collapse of 2008 that did it. The financial industry almost literally came within a hair's breadth of destroying the world, but even so it took only a few short months for them to close ranks with Republicans and the rich to prevent anything serious being done to rein them in. Profits are back up, new regulations are barely more than window dressing, nothing was done to help underwater homeowners, bonuses are as obscene as ever, unemployment remains sky high, and the public has somehow been convinced that this was all their own fault — or perhaps the fault of big government, or big deficits, or something. But the finance industry has escaped almost entirely unscathed. It's mind boggling. If this doesn't change your view of who really runs the world, I don't know what would.

To answer the question I posed in the title, I'd say very little has changed. And what has changed is being threatened by rich people who don't like it and Republicans who only care about the interests of those rich people. As Drum points out, don't confuse tea party rhetoric as being opposed to this situation. They are just rattling off their ridiculous anti-gov't involvement in things like TARP. They only care about the tax rates of rich people.

If the unemployed want jobs and the entirety of the working population that isn't rich want to get paid well they need to either get more involved or simply vote Democrat. Dems are beholden to some of the same entities that Reps are, which is why Drum calls the Dodd-Frank regulation weak. But Dems will at least give people a fighting chance. All Reps will do is work for the status quo. And once they secure that they will work for an even more unaccounted for financial industry and economy in general. Think back to the crisis of a few years ago and the problems that still persist today and ask yourself if that is something you want.