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Showing posts from November, 2012

Tax hype and the fiscal curb

Reading yet another post on the fiscal curb and the deficit "problem" got me thinking about what both sides want. This whole issue is ridiculous. It was created by Republicans in the House to make Obama look bad and to get lower taxes. Up until now I've agreed with Obama's preference to raise marginal tax rates on income at 250k and up. The problem in these fiscal curb negotiations is that Republicans really, really don't want that. If there is one thing they are consistent about, it's that they want to lower taxes on the rich. So how do we get a deal given these constraints?

Obama wants to raise taxes on the rich in order to help lower the deficit. But I don't care about the deficit right now. So even though I'd like to raise taxes on the rich in principle, I'm willing to give that up. I'm not sure if Obama is willing to give that up for things like extension of unemployment benefits or extension of a payroll tax holiday. But I would. If he d…

"Lincoln" and films about history

I saw Lincoln this past weekend and really enjoyed it. I'm not much of a Spielberg fan. But he was in top form here, as was the entire cast and crew. Daniel Day Lewis is as great as everyone has said. As a piece of entertainment I give it high marks. But in reading a lot of critiques of the movie from a history perspective, it seems either incomplete or out of focus, perhaps both.

I'm a bit torn as to whether that's just a minor inconvenience (likely a result of the nature of the medium) or a big flaw that detracts from almost undeniably effective things the movie does well. On the one hand, if you set out to make a movie about history and the people that helped shape that history, you have some sort of obligation to make it accurate (unless you're making something like Inglorious Basterds). On the other hand, you aren't making a documentary, which I think bears a higher standard for accuracy and scope (something like Ken Burns' Civil War documentary). In the …

Deciding policy with religion

Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses abortion in this post and it got me thinking about where anti-abortion advocates draw their reasoning from:

I would submit that if you believe abortion to be murder, you don't decide at all. There is a chilling intellectual consistency in the behavior of Halappanavar's doctors, and pro-life activists who we dismiss as "extremists." Either abortion is murder, or it isn't. If you believe the former then Halappanavar's doctors were quite correct -- they refused to murder a baby to save its mother.

Walsh was lying in his refusal to admit that women actually do die during the work of pregnancy. But his position -- "without exceptions" -- strikes me as the honest one. The problem here isn't packaging. There is no way to honestly modify its import. Either you believe that women who have sex should run the risk of being remanded to potentially lethal labor, or you don't. No exceptions.
A lot of people strongly disagree wit…

Economic heuristics

Kevin Drum wonders why people tend to listen to CEOs when they talk about the economy:

I'm a cynic, so I suppose you should take my views on the business community with a shaker of salt. Nonetheless, here's what I think we should conclude from this: Fortune 500 CEOs should never be taken seriously on macroeconomic issues. Their job is to dole out high-grade BS in public, and politics and macroeconomics are just grist for their mill. Every word out of their mouths is special pleading, and that's how the business press ought to treat it. I really have no idea why anyone ever takes them seriously on this stuff.
When people hear "CEO" the heuristic (mental shortcut that easily allows someone to identify something without too much mental work) they conjure up is someone who is important, has authority and expertise in the area, and thus should be trusted with their opinion. It's more difficult to explain why this heuristic exists.

I think part of it is that it'…

Tax subsidies for churches

A while back I said I don't think we should let religious institutions not pay property taxes on their churches:

I don't see any reason a church/religion should get special exemption. I would be willing to keep the status quo if I thought that the exemption and threat of having it removed kept churches from advocating politics. I strongly suspect it doesn't. So I think a fair thing to do would be to officially let churches say what they want and force them to pay taxes like the rest of us.

The biggest deal here is the tax exemption, which allows churches to own huge pieces of lang at low prices while driving up prices for everyone else. The free speech issue here is really more a matter of theory because in practice this restriction isn't much of a burden. As a preacher or whatever, you can practically walk outside your church and onto the sidewalk and advocate whatever/whomever you want and their tax exemption would be fine.
Matt Yglesias confirms my suspicion that it…

Dolphins vs Seahawks: playcalling by down

For most of this season I've been complaining about how the Dolphins have called plays. My eyeball test was telling me that they were running the ball way too much on 1st down, which was having the effect of not gaining many yards (even good running teams gain less per rush than bad passing teams gain per pass), thus making it harder to make a first down on 2nd and 3rd down. Not wanting to rely just on my eyeballs, I kept track of the playcalling vs Seattle. Here is the rundown:

1st down: 18 runs 10 passes

2nd down: 6 runs 11 passes

3rd down: 3 runs 7 passes
You can see the big disparity on 1st down, which obviously has a direct effect on what you do on the next two downs. We ran the ball better against Seattle than we have since the first week or two of the season. But even then, we are in the bottom half of the league in yards gained per rush. So on average, when we run the ball on 1st down we are leaving Tannehill with about 7 yards to gain on the next two downs.

I don't ha…

Intellectually honesty and epistemic closure

Bruce Bartlett gives a detailed account of his own battle with intellectual honesty and how it made him an outcast within the Republican party and conservatism as a whole:

After careful research along these lines, I came to the annoying conclusion that Keynes had been 100 percent right in the 1930s. Previously, I had thought the opposite. But facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion. It didn’t affect the argument in my book, which was only about the rise and fall of ideas. The fact that Keynesian ideas were correct as well as popular simply made my thesis stronger.

I finished the book just as the economy was collapsing in the fall of 2008. This created another intellectual crisis for me. Having just finished a careful study of the 1930s, it was immediately obvious to me that the economy was suffering from the very same problem, a lack of aggregate demand. We needed Keynesian policies again, which completely ruined my nice rise-and-fall thesis. Keynesian ideas had arisen …

Tax hype

With the "fiscal curb" (it's not a cliff) being the big topic in DC we are talking a lot about taxes. We always talk a lot about taxes, at least Republicans do. They are important. But they are overhyped, especially if you are talking about economic growth. Matt Yglesias explains:

The case against returning to the kind of 90 percent marginal income tax rates that we had in the 1950s seems pretty ironclad to me—the 1950s tax code raised way less money than the 1990s tax code (90 percent tax rates are a great stimulus to tax avoidance strategies) so what would the point be? But there's no doubt that tax rates that high were compatible with robust economic growth. This is a somewhat embarassing fact for people who put a lot of emphasis on low marginal tax rates as a key to growth.
The argument here, which certainly makes sense, is that the postwar US economy grew fast not because of high tax rates but despite them. But Lindsey locates the true cause of the rapid grow…

Ron Swanson quotes

One of my favorite sites,, has a bunch of Ron Swanson quotes here. I love Parks and Recreation and think Ron is really funny. But when you lay all of his quotes out in one place you realize that he's kind of nuts. His delivery and love of bacon often mask how crazy his ideology is on the merits. Hopefully his character moves slightly away from the crazy while keeping the love of bacon and most meats. Anyway, here are some of my favorite quotes:

“The less I know about other people’s affairs, the happier I am. I’m not interested in caring about people. I once worked with a guy for three years and never learned his name. Best friend I ever had. We still never talk sometimes.”“You may have thought you heard me say I wanted a lot of bacon and eggs, but what I said was: Give me all the bacon and eggs you have.”Never half ass two things, whole ass one thing.“The whole thing is a scam. Birthdays were invented by Hallmark to sell cards.”

Bill O'Reilly and conservative reaction to the election

I don't usually take to criticizing pundits directly. For the most part I think it gives them more credibility than they're worth (which is none) by addressing them. But I'm making an exception for Bill O'Reilly for a few reasons. First off, I used to like Bill when I was a young conservative. When he isn't being an asshole, he has a certain charm to him. And he's effective at what he does, which is argue in a very controlled environment. He's good at giving a quick and concise argument that takes more time than he gives you to refute.

Another reason is that Bill isn't always blind to reality. Sometimes he is able to see through the made up reality that many conservatives live in and give decent analyses. But it appears he is living in that made up reality:

If you look at the exit polling, you’ll see that a coalition of voters put the President back into the oval office. That coalition was non-tradition, which means it veered away from things like tradi…

Seinfeld's "The Contest" and feminism

Craig Hlavaty points out that today is the 20th anniversary of the famous Seinfeld episode.

On November 18, 1992, the creators and writers of Seinfeld posed a serious question to Americans, just weeks after they elected Bill Clinton as their new president.
"How long can a modern human go without masturbating?" they asked, without even using the dreaded M-word, with more than 22 minutes of side-stepping stuttering hilarity.
But with "The Contest" the Seinfeld tapped into uncharted territory for television. The phrase "master of my domain" would become code for taming your lustful onanistic urges.

Today if a current sitcom tackled this same subject it wouldn't be a big deal. Censors in 1992 were still scared of the m-word. We were all still two years away from the Jocelyn Elders debacle too.

And with porn so prevalent on smart phones now, the novelty of jacking it to a copy of Glamour is sweetly-innocent.

Even the concept of a woman masturbating -- …

Cabrera vs Trout for MVP

Nate Silver and I would be pretty good friends. We both enjoy politics and sports. Here he is weighing in on the American League MVP debate, which apparently Cabrera won today:

The argument on Trout’s behalf isn’t all that complicated: he provided the greater overall contribution to his team. Trout was a much better defensive player than Cabrera, and a much better base runner. And if Cabrera was the superior hitter, it wasn’t by nearly as much as the triple crown statistics might suggest.
Trout, with his speed, aggressiveness and good judgment on the bases, was also able to help the Angels in other ways, such as by scoring more often from second base when one of his teammates got a base hit. With the more detailed data available on everything that happens on the field, it is now possible to quantify these contributions as well.

Over all, Trout contributed about 12 additional runs on the basepaths when compared with an average runner. The bulky Cabrera, by contrast, cost the Tigers …

Sore losers talk secession

Erica Grieder analyzes the secession talk:

All of these figures, incidentally, strike me as implausibly high, and if they were palpably true it would be troubling. Secession is illegal, however, and even if it weren't, every state is clearly better off as part of the United States than it would be on its own. I therefore understand secessionist rhetoric--in Texas and elsewhere--as a euphemism for more general frustration, rather than a serious suggestion. In fact, I would argue that it's precisely because secession is such a preposterous suggestion that it's safe to clown on about; that's why some people in Austin have started up their own petition to secede from Texas if Texas secedes from America.
I'm kind of interested in the question of whether a state should have the right to secede. If states are supposed to be sovereign entities than I would think they should have the right. But since we don't have to deal in strict terms all the time, we can easily say …

Differences of degree

I've talked about this before here. In that post I was discussing the individual mandate and the conservative rhetoric in opposition to it. Here's what I said:

The gov't forces everyone to do all sorts of things. The ones he mentions is one of the more important ones. A few other off the top of my head are; you also have to send your kids to school, you have to drive at certain speeds, not kill or harm other people, pay even 1% of taxes, and any number of things that no one really complains about.

So when people say they oppose the mandate because the gov't can't force them to do something they are just factually wrong. What they mean to say is that the gov't can't force them to do this specific thing because it crosses some sort of line. And once you acknowledge that we are just arguing over differences in degree. We aren't arguing over the difference between freedom and tyranny. I get that people use inflamed rhetoric in order to try and make their po…

Chris Christie and rational choice

Daniel Larison on Republican spin regarding the election and Christie:

It’s a reminder that it was never Christie that these activists liked. What these activists liked was the reliable partisanship that he seemed to practice. When he didn’t act the part of the angry partisan that they were used to seeing, and instead acted as a self-interested politician and responsible state official would, they no longer had any use for him. The fact that he had been considered an effective surrogate for Romney over the last several months is quickly forgotten, and all that remains is the idea that Christie "betrayed" the cause by doing something that any other official in his position would have done.
First of all, I highly, highly doubt the hurricane or Christie's actions had any significant effect on the election. What I thought was interesting in reading Larison was what motivated Christie to act the way he did.

Being a reliable partisan is often a good way to act rationally. When…