Saturday, June 30, 2012

Last word on the broccoli argument

The SC decision is still fresh on my mind. So I wanted to get this out there before I lost it. Justice Roberts says congress can tax people if they don't buy health insurance. I don't think he set out any limits in his decision or made the slippery slope argument that he did with congress' ability to enforce the mandate under the commerce clause. But there is a slippery slope argument to be made.

If congress can tax people for not buying insurance, what can't congress tax people for? We can even use the broccoli analogy here. If congress can tax people for not buying insurance, why can't congress tax people for not buying broccoli? Also, if congress can tax people X amount for not buying health insurance, why can't congress tax people an unlimited amount of money for not buying health insurance or broccoli, or tax them 99% of their income for an income tax?

I'm not sure if Roberts addressed these questions. And I'm not sure why they are any less important than the broccoli argument in relation to the commerce clause. I suspect Roberts would give the same answer Justice Ginsburg gave, which is basically that you don't have to explicitly spell out the limit of congress' power in this regard because there is sort of a natural limit. (Also notice that the constitution doesn't spell out the limits of congress' taxing power either)

Common sense and democratic accountability dictate that congress is very likely to not impose a 99% income tax rate or tax you X amount if you don't buy broccoli. Also, if you do impose a strict limit on what congress can do you risk handicapping it from solving problems, which is the reason it was given the power to tax and regulate commerce to begin with, and the reason the court expanded the previous limits the court had placed on the reach congress has with the commerce clause.

In short, it just doesn't follow that because congress is given a certain power that it will automatically want to extend that power to its most extreme end. Is there a danger of it happening? Sure. But it's not a certainty. If it was we couldn't give congress or the executive any power at all. There are limits. And the court has a role in deciding what those limits are. But it shouldn't try to define such limits based on shaky logic, which is what the slippery slope lined with broccoli argument amounts to.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Justice Ginsburg's opinion

I was advised by the blog Lawyers, Guns, and Money to read her opinion. I've started reading it even though I'm tired. And since she writes so clearly and effectively I wanted to quote some of the passages I am finding helpful:

The Framers understood that the “general Interests of the Union” would change over time, in ways they could not anticipate. Accordingly, they recognized that the Constitution was of necessity a “great outlin[e],” not a detailed blueprint, see McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 407 (1819), and that its provisions included broad concepts, to be “explained by the context or by the facts of the case,” Letter from James Madison to N. P. Trist (Dec. 1831), in 9 Writings of James Madison 471, 475 (G. Hunt ed. 1910). “Nothing . . . can be more fallacious,” Alexander Hamilton emphasized, “than to infer the extent of any power, proper to be lodged in the national government, from . . . its immediate necessities. There ought to be a capacity to provide for future contingencies[,] as they may happen; and as these are illimitable in their nature, it is impossible safely to limit that capacity.” The Federalist No. 34, pp. 205, 206 (John Harvard Library ed. 2009). See also McCulloch, 4 Wheat., at 415 (The Necessary and Proper Clause is lodged “in a constitution[,] intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.”).

Here she cites my two favorite founders. Basically it's stating that the commerce clause provides congress with pretty wide ranging power because they knew they couldn't think of every single economic activity that would be relevant and whether such activities needed or didn't need regulation. I also like this passage because it confirms my "But, Hamilton" theory which states that originalism is useless because you can consistently count on Alexander Hamilton to give you an expansive interpretation of what congress can do under the constitution. And since this is before Washington was president you can count on Madison to do so as well.

So citing the commerce clause as their authority, congress and the president decided to do this:

Congress comprehended that guaranteed-issue and community-rating laws alone will not work. When insurance companies are required to insure the sick at affordable prices, individuals can wait until they become ill to buy insurance. Pretty soon, those in need of immediate medical care—i.e., those who cost insurers the most—become the insurance companies’ main customers. This “adverse selection” problem leaves insurers with two choices: They can either raise premiums dramatically to cover their ever-increasing costs or they can exit the market. In the seven States that tried guaranteed-issue and community-rating requirements without a minimum coverage provision, that is precisely what insurance companies did. See, e.g., AAPD Brief 10 (“[In Maine,] [m]any insurance providers doubled their premiums in just three years or less.”); id., at 12 (“Like New York, Vermont saw substantial increases in premiums after its . . . insurance reform measures took effect in 1993.”); Hall, An Evaluation of New York’s Reform Law, 25 J. Health Pol. Pol’y & L. 71, 91–92 (2000) (Guaranteed-issue and community-rating laws resulted in a “dramatic exodus of indemnity insurers from New York’s individual [insurance] market.”); Brief for Barry Friedman et al. as Amici Curiae in No. 11–398, p. 17 (“In Kentucky, all but two insurers (one State-run) abandoned the State.”).

This wasn't completely clear to me before. But this explains why the mandate (or tax) is needed in order to make the rest of the law work. If you knew an insurance company couldn't deny you coverage because you were sick, why would you buy insurance if you were healthy? You would be perfectly rational to not buy the coverage, save money, and use that saved money to buy coverage if you got sick or had an accident. Meanwhile, the insurance company isn't collecting the money from you that they need to pay for the costs of other people's medical expenses. Thus, in order to get that money they need, they raise the rates on those who are still paying. After that happens, when you finally get sick, you have to pay high rates to get coverage.

Here she is citing the conservatives' own precedent in Raich:

Similar reasoning supported the Court’s judgment in Raich, which upheld Congress’ authority to regulate marijuana grown for personal use. 545 U. S., at 19. Homegrown marijuana substantially affects the interstate mar- ket for marijuana, we observed, for “the high demand in the interstate market will [likely] draw such marijuana into that market.” Ibid.

That's in response to the claim by Roberts that you can't regulate something based on the future effect it will probably have on interstate commerce. Like the rest of us, she doesn't seem to follow the reasoning that you can regulate the potential effect growing pot will probably have on interstate commerce but you can't regulate the potential (more certain) impact not buying health insurance will have on interstate commerce.

Then she goes on to make a point that I kept going back to in regard to a unique aspect of the insurance market:

Maintaining that the uninsured are not active in the health-care market, The Chief Justice draws an analogy to the car market. An individual “is not ‘active in the car market,’ ” The Chief Justice observes, simply because he or she may someday buy a car. Ante, at 25. The analogy is inapt. The inevitable yet unpredictable need for medical care and the guarantee that emergency care will be provided when required are conditions nonexistent in other markets. That is so of the market for cars, and of the market for broccoli as well. Although an individual might buy a car or a crown of broccoli one day, there is no certainty she will ever do so. And if she eventually wants a car or has a craving for broccoli, she will be obliged to pay at the counter before receiving the vehicle or nourishment. She will get no free ride or food, at the expense of another consumer forced to pay an inflated price. See Thomas More Law Center v. Obama, 651 F. 3d 529, 565 (CA6 2011) (Sutton, J., concurring in part) (“Regulating how citizens pay for what they already receive (health care), never quite know when they will need, and in the case of severe illnesses or emergencies generally will not be able to afford, has few (if any) parallels in modern life.”). Upholding the minimum coverage provision on the ground that all are participants or will be participants in the health-care market would therefore carry no implication that Congress may justify under the Commerce Clause a mandate to buy other products and services.

That point being the fact that emergency rooms have to treat people. To me that was always a key to the unique nature of the health care market and the activity/inactivity debate. If the uninsured were not required to be treated by emergency rooms I would probably have to agree that the mandate is unconstitutional. But it is a requirement and it drives up the price of insurance for everyone else. And just the uninsured's presence creates risk for the insurance company and thus forces them to raise prices on the insured. So even the inactivity of not buying insurance has a substantial impact on interstate commerce.

That's all for now. There's a lot more to her opinion, mostly pertaining to the necessary and proper clause and the ruling on the medicare expansion. I'll try to get to it later.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reaction to Supreme Court's health care decision

I'll try to make this as brief and simple as possible for those of you who don't want to run around the internet looking for a summary and analysis. Here's a good one from the always fantastic Ezra Klein:

The 5-4 language suggests that Roberts agreed with the liberals. But for the most part, he didn’t. If you read the opinions, he sided with the conservative bloc on every major legal question before the court. He voted with the conservatives to say the Commerce Clause did not justify the individual mandate. He voted with the conservatives to say the Necessary and Proper Clause did not justify the mandate. He voted with the conservatives to limit the federal government’s power to force states to carry out the planned expansion of Medicaid. ”He was on-board with the basic challenge,” said Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and a former clerk to Justice Kennedy. “He was on the conservative side of the controversial issues.”

His break with the conservatives, and his only point of agreement with the liberals, was in finding that the mandate was a “tax” — a finding that, while extremely important for the future of the Affordable Care Act, is not a hugely consequential legal question.

So basically, most of the court bought the inactivity and broccoli arguments. They thought that congress can't regulate something people aren't doing, which was not buying health insurance. And they thought that if congress can force you to buy health insurance, they could force you to do a lot of other things they don't like. I'll direct you to this post for most of my thoughts on those arguments.

But Chief Justice Roberts thought that the mandate was really just a tax. And congress clearly has the power to tax. (And apparently, it can tax whatever it wants.) So based on that reasoning, Roberts voted with the liberals to uphold the entire bill.

I was a bit surprised by the ruling. I thought it would be overturned. And I thought Kennedy would be the swing vote whichever way it turned out. Even though I'm disappointed with the commerce clause ruling and the medicaid part that Roberts ruled against, I'm glad Roberts was reasonable and upheld the bill. This isn't the silver bullet for our health care problems. And given electoral outcomes, Romney and Republicans could repeal the bill. But I think that will be difficult for them to do that. And with a little luck this could make a big positive difference for this country.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Congressional approval and democratic accountability

Leo Linbeck III has a long piece describing why congress doesn't work and why that's bad for our democracy. Here's the part that I wanted to address:

It is ironic to recall that the Founders gave the power of the purse to the House of Representatives because, being more responsive to the people, it would protect their pocketbooks from the extravagances of the executive branch. For the first 100 years, it pretty much worked that way, with federal spending about 4 percent of GDP.

Today the House is a spending machine—it spends $10 billion each day and more than 25 percent of GDP. Money can’t buy love, but it can buy power: in November 2010, Congress had an approval rating of just 17 percent, while the re-election rate in the House was 86 percent.

This disconnect between approval and re-election rates is the clearest sign that the congressional accountability system is broken. But there are several underlying causes:

He goes on to make some decent points about the problems in congress. But I wanted to address the point about the disconnect between approval and reelection. Here's what I said late last year about congressional approval ratings:

But Congressional approval ratings are rarely very high. I think its important to keep that context in mind because I think it helps explain whey they are so pathetically low right now. Even if the economy was growing quickly and we were clearly on track almost half the country still wouldn't approve. Why? Because almost half the country is of the opposing party and they don't like to see members of Congress from the other party doing well. When you add that constant to the bad economic situation you are almost assured nearly every Republican will disapprove of Congress.

You also have a substantial number of people disliking almost everything the minority party is doing based on their partisanship. Democrats don't like the Republicans members of Congress because they think they are blocking Democrats from solving problems. Even during good times when a person's party is doing things they aren't going to like the minority party because they are still trying to block things.

Basically, I think when people are asked if they approve of Congress they are thinking of a few things: Is the economy doing well? Are we at war, and how well is it going? Is my party in power? Is the other party keeping them from passing things? And is my party doing enough to pass things? The reason Congressional approval ratings are so low is because people have a negative response to all of those questions.

I maintain that what really drives consistently low congressional approval ratings is partisanship and the state of the economy (and war when the economy is stable). I don't think it has much to do with spending, as Linbeck suggests. When voters complain about spending they are again mostly complaining about partisanship. They don't like it when money is spent by the other party and on people other than themselves or their interests.

And that's part of why they don't throw out incumbents. Their own representatives are usually pretty good at spending money on them. As he said, that's part of why the founders gave congress, and specifically the House, the power of the purse. And while people may not like what other members of congress spend money on, they can't really do anything about that. So I don't really see congressional approval ratings and spending as a % of GDP as a threat to democratic accountability, at least in and of themselves.

The other reasons he offers better explain the problem, particularly money's influence on campaigns and gerrymandering. I've only read one political science article on gerrymandering. So I won't claim any sort of complete knowledge of the field. But the study I read suggested that gerrymandering had the effect of creating more partisan districts. If that's the case, it would help explain the partisan nature of congress and why opinions across party lines are so split, and thus why congressional approval is low.

And the effects of money seem pretty well explained by now. But in short, money certainly seems to make it harder for voters to have their opinions heard when they don't give as much money to representatives. In fact, there is data that shows that congress votes more along the lines of the rich than it does the poor. And in terms of holding incumbents accountable, having a lot of money discourages challengers in both the primary and general elections.

Even if you make progress on some of these problems I think congress will continue to be unpopular because some level of partisanship will persist. What really needs to change, and what might be the toughest thing to accomplish, is to have a more active citizenry that is aggressive when holding their representatives accountable.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Mitt Romney gets away with being a liar

Michael Cohen has a nice article pointing out the many ways in which Mitt Romney is a liar. Basically, if he isn't dodging an issue by not taking a stance he is lying. The vast majority of politicians are full of shit. But I'm not aware of many that lie on the level Romney does.

There are a few reasons he gets away with it. One is that the Republican party is out of its mind. The party is so delusional that it doesn't think its lies are lies. In relation to that, it has media outlets (FoxNews and talk radio) that present and reinforce those lies as truths. Thus the voters tend to believe the lies and they expect the leaders to agree with them and then further reinforce those lies. It's all a big feedback loop.

The party itself and the conservative media are strong forces. But Cohen, via Steve Benan, says that the conventional media is also part of the problem:

"Romney gets away with it because he and his team realize contemporary political journalism isn't equipped to deal with a candidate who lies this much, about so many topics, so often."

I'm not sure exactly what this means, specifically what tool the media lacks to combat Romney's lying. I guess it could mean they don't have the ability to reach conservative voters who trust their reporting to the point where they would question their own leaders about their lies. I would agree with that to a large extent.

What I also think the media lacks is the ability to be as combative towards exposing lies and the truth as aggressively as people like Romney are at spouting the lies. At some point Romney is going to have to do an interview or debate at a place other than FoxNews. Not to mention that any reporter can follow him on the campaign trail and ask him why he constantly lies. Granted, it's not likely you will get an answer since he has no intellectual integrity. But at least you would be making the effort.

As Glenn Greenwald consistently points out, the media seems much too deferential to people in power. Romney should be an absolute joke and completely non-credible. But for the most part people just kind of brush the lying under the rug and accept it as part of the process that doesn't need to be challenged. The only way that changes and the Republican party stops being delusional is if they suffer some consequences for their intellectual dishonesty. And the media has to have a big hand in making that happen.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Supreme Court f***s it up

No ruling on the individual mandate yet. Though I'm sure they'll fuck that up too. This one was on an indecency case:

The U.S. Supreme Court has avoided the First Amendment issue in a ruling on behalf of broadcasters fighting an indecency finding for broadcasts of the F-word and nudity.

The court ruled 8-0 in FCC v. Fox Television Stations that Fox and ABC did not have fair notice from the Federal Communications Commission that fleeting expletives and momentary nudity could be found indecent.
SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein writes at his blog that the decision is “very narrow” and “doesn’t decide the big questions." Kennedy acknowledged the limited scope of his opinion for the court. “Because the court resolves these cases on fair notice grounds under the due process clause, it need not address the First Amendment implications of the Commission’s indecency policy,” he wrote.

In the case before the court, three broadcasts were targeted by the FCC: an NYBD Blue episode on ABC showing a shot of a bare female buttocks, and two Billboard Awards shows on Fox Television that broadcast fleeting expletives. Kennedy wrote that singer Cher and “a person named Nicole Richie” had both used the F-word on the awards shows. Richie had used the S-word as well in her remarks: “Have you ever tried to get cow s*** out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f***ing simple.”

“Here, the court rules that Fox and ABC lacked notice at the time of their broadcasts that the material they were broadcasting could be found actionably indecent under then-existing policies,” Kennedy wrote. “Given this disposition, it is unnecessary for the court to address the constitutionality of the current indecency policy.”

They don't rule on something seemingly until they absolutely have to. So it's not surprising they wouldn't address the 1st amendment implications at hand. But they should and they should do so in favor of letting people (or tv writers in this case) say what they want.

I'm not a free speech absolutist. You can't yell fire in a crowded theater. You can't slander people. Basically, you can't harm people with your speech. That should be the only barrier (and no, I don't think money is the same as literal speech). And since I don't see how simply hearing the word "fuck", or whatever other expletive the FCC doesn't like, can hurt anyone, I don't think it should be outlawed on tv or anywhere else.

Beyond the fact I don't think hearing "fuck" or seeing a naked body will harm anyone, I just don't think the FCC or any regulation on those things is necessary. Any conservatives who follow this blog will probably be surprised to hear this, but I think the free market would take care of the "policing" of expletives and any other kind of "indecency" on tv. If one major network basically became HBO and massive amount of people disapproved they simply would stop watching. And that network would be forced to change its content.

You see this work with movies. If you want to see nudity and hear expletives you can. If you don't want those things there are movies out there for you. That's not to say I don't have problems with the MPAA. But it's a better system than the FCC and tv. And if a bunch of uptight people are going to keep complaining and regulating tv, it would be nice if the supreme court could settle things a bit and tell us what they think the 1st amendment allows.

Update: Great point by Adam Serwer:

The court's narrow ruling reflects a very different attitude towards the First Amendment than the one on display in the court's decision in Citizens' United, which opened the spigot for unlimited, unregulated corporate money in elections. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his Citizens United opinion, "it is our law and tradition that more speech, not less, is the governing rule." That rule appears to apply only to unlimited corporate cash, not sideboob. Which do you think is more threatening to the democratic process?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Marco Rubio speaks some truth on immigration

I'm too lazy to look up his biography. But someone in Rubio's family immigrated to the US. So he probably has some sort of understanding of the mindset of immigrants, which is why he can say this:

“Many people who come here illegally are doing exactly what we would do if we lived in a country where we couldn’t feed our families,” Rubio writes in his book, which went on sale Tuesday. “If my kids went to sleep hungry every night and my country didn’t give me an opportunity to feed them, there isn’t a law, no matter how restrictive, that would prevent me from coming here.”

That's why I have sympathy for "illegal" immigrants who are technically breaking the law by not coming to the US through the proper channels. There is no fundamental difference between me and a kid born to poverty in Mexico. Neither of us chose to be born in the place we were born. If we were given a choice we'd both choose the US. If I were born into a poor family in Mexico I would probably do what Rubio says and do what I could to move to the relatively close rich country.

I applaud Rubio for saying this and generally trying to make good decisions on immigration policy. But the reason he has to bash Obama for not working with him on the DREAM act is because his fellow Republicans can't recognize what Rubio does and what I've talked about a lot on this blog, that you don't choose where you're born and what family you're born to. Everything to Republicans is pure individualism. And that's why they often act like they don't care about immigrants.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Romney continues to display foreign policy ignorance

I can't even label this one #always1979 because even Republicans in 1979 didn't think things like this:

I can assure you if I’m President, the Iranians will have no question but that I would be willing to take military action, if necessary, to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world…I understand that some in the Senate, for instance, have written letters to the President indicating you should know that — that a — a containment strategy is unacceptable. We cannot survive a — a course of action which would include a nuclear Iran, and we must be willing to take any and all action, they must all — all those actions must be on the table.

He just doesn't have a clue. I'm dying for someone to ask him to explain something like this. At this point I might pay to hear him try to explain it because he is glossing over the Cold War during which the Soviet Union had nukes. And notice, as I've said before, he doesn't explain his thinking. He just makes the statement without providing any facts or any logic explanation and moves on to assuring conservatives he will bomb them.

I think it's beyond pathetic and tragic that this moron probably won't be pressed on comments like these. The guy is running for the highest office in the gov't, which is given more power over foreign policy than any other issue, and he doesn't have to display any sort of understanding of any foreign policy issues.

What's worse is that he also said that as president he would be able to act without Congress if he decided to bomb Iran. That in and of itself isn't worse than what Obama did as it pertains to things like Libya and drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. But as I've tried to make clear, at least Obama seems to have more of a clue than Romney. Jonathan says that's not as big a deal as some are making, that Congress can stop such actions if they chose. But at this point I think it has to tell us something important that Congress consistently doesn't chose to act and just either let's the president do what it wants or explicitly gives it said power. Plus, the fact that Congress has the power to act shouldn't keep us from hammering the president and candidates for doing something they probably shouldn't.

Update: Nice timing from Kenneth Waltz arguing that a nuclear Iran would be good for stability in the middle east:

Although it is impossible to be certain of Iranian intentions, it is far more likely that if Iran desires nuclear weapons, it is for the purpose of enhancing its own security, not to improve its offensive capabilities. Iran could be intransigent when negotiating and defiant in the face of sanctions, but it still acts to secure its own preservation.

Nevertheless, even some observers and policymakers who accept that the Iranian regime is rational still worry that a nuclear weapon would embolden it, providing Tehran with a shield that would allow it to act more aggressively and increase its support for terrorism. The problem with these concerns is that they contradict the record of almost every other nuclear weapons state dating to 1945. History shows that when countries acquire the bomb, they feel increasingly vulnerable and become acutely aware that their nuclear weapons make them a potential target in the eyes of major powers. This awareness discourages nuclear states from bold and aggressive action. Maoist China, for example, became much less bellicose after acquiring nuclear weapons in 1964, and India and Pakistan have both become more cautious since going nuclear.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Michigan lawmakers find "vagina" offensive

These assholes can't even hear the word without being offended. Yet they want to be able to control what women can do with their own. Rachel Walden has the story:

Rep. Lisa Brown (Democrat) said the word “vagina” on the Michigan House floor, in the context of making remarks opposing a set of anti-abortion bills. As punishment for using the medically correct term when opposing the legislature’s attempt to control Michigan women’s bodies and limit their ability to make their own reproductive decisions, Brown and another female Democratic Rep (Barb Byrum) were prevented from speaking on other legislation. Members of Brown’s district were denied the input of their elected representation, because a bunch of dudes don’t ever want to have to hear about squicky vaginas and how they aren’t actually their property.

Brown had concluded her remarks in opposition to the bill with:

I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?” she said. But what came next is what got her in trouble: “And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’

One male Republican Rep, Mike Callton, reportedly responded:

“It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”
Rep. Brown responded to the ban:

“Regardless of their reasoning, this is a violation of my First Amendment rights and directly impedes my ability to serve the people who elected me into office. I was either banned for being Jewish and rightfully pointing out that House Bill 5711 was forcing contradictory religious beliefs upon me and any other religion. Or it is because I said the word ‘vagina’ which is an anatomically, medically correct term. If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it.”

That's a great response from Rep Brown. Standing ovation from me. Here's hoping more people fight back against the Republican attempt to control women.

The metric of worth

Conor Friedersdorf reviewed a book about elites by Chris Hayes and he asked readers for their responses to the subject. He posted the response of one reader that I also want to post because I thought it was a very interesting analysis:

The root of this entire thing is the metric of worth. The metric of worth changes as culture changes and it should be done away with altogether, but it's too radical. Instead of acknowledging the huge spectrum of people and creating a dignified place for everyone, we have created a Gladiator Arena where the deserving win and the flawed lose. This is the basis of America.

We stole this land. But that's okay because the vision of the United States was so much more important and better than what the indigenous people were doing with it. Thomas Jefferson wrote all that bullshit about all men being created equal while being a slaveholder.

We accept and reinforce constantly that well, some people are just better, just worth more than other people. And we move this concept from one thing to another. Ok, you can't say that whites are superior to blacks, how about straight is better than gay? No? No good? How about smart people! Any color or sexual orientation can be smart! Even girls can be smart! Let's do that one.

Only let's redefine smart to mean successful. It's a shell game of oppression.

I'm not sure I would advocate doing away with the metric of worth entirely. To me that was one of the utopian aspects of communism (Marx's theory, not Lenin's application) that was appealing but seemingly unworkable. At least she acknowledges it would be radical. But the rest of her analysis is at least pretty accurate.

The part about there being a huge spectrum of people is something I've tried to talk about on this blog, though perhaps not in those same terms. I've discussed the fact that people are born with different abilities, and are born with those different abilities into different situations in which they can or can't take advantage of those abilities. And those people had absolutely not control over where they started.

Yet, as Beth (the commenter) points out, as a society, we interpret the fact that the person who was born under better circumstances and thus was more "successful" is smarter than the other person who was born under worse circumstances which made it much more difficult to be "successful". And it turns into a shell game of oppression (great phrase, Beth) because those people who become "successful", the elite, get to define or redefine the terms. They get to define how you measure worth. And not surprisingly, they define things in a way that best suits themselves and the people they care about. And that's where you get the problems we have that Hayes' writes about in his book.

I could go on and on about this because it affects so much of our lives and politics. But I guess I'll leave it at that for now. There are some more good posts from commenters in the link. So check those out as well.

Rand Paul supports Romney's foreign policy

I usually bash Rand Paul for being too libertarian and supporting completely ridiculous policies, or non-policies since he thinks the market is perfect and he basically wants not gov't for a lot of things. So I found it as odd as Daniel Larison did that Paul would say this:

"I came away from it feeling he would be a very responsible commander-in-chief. I don't think he'll be reckless. I don't think he'll be rash. And I think that he realizes and believes as I do that war is a last resort and something we don't rush willy-nilly into. And I came away feeling that he'll have mature attitude and beliefs towards foreign policy."

The word that I would think of when I think of Romney's foreign policy views would not be mature. It would be closer to moronic, or old fashioned. Like most Republicans, Romney still thinks it's 1979. I'm unaware of any evidence that Romney differs from most Republicans on any foreign policy issue.

You could argue that he is just saying the right things during a campaign to cater to his base. But I think it goes beyond that because it's not just that he supports bad policies or has a few moronic neocons advising him. It's that he doesn't seem to even know or understand the issues (Russia is our greatest geopolitical foe) and he goes against the decent advice some of his advisers suggest.

So I just don't see what Paul does in order to say Romney would even have a freaking clue what to do with foreign policy broadly. I think this has been a problem with Obama, that he doesn't have a very clear overarching policy. Without a clear vision of what you want your foreign policy to achieve I think you leave yourself open to making poor decisions. And if Romney is making those decisions he will be listening to at least a few morons who want to bomb every country and an entire party that wants to do the same.

Rand Paul's father understands the problem with that and he consistently speaks out against it. I guess he's not as ideologically consistent as his father because if he were he would be very worried about Romney's foreign policy views.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises opening

Last night I purchased my tickets to The Dark Knight Rises midnight showing. I figured it should be at least as big as The Avengers was. And I'm even more excited for this than I was The Avengers (sorry Joss). So I made sure I would have a ticket.

Not only am I going to watch TDKR, I'm also going to watch the first two Nolan Batman movies that same night. That's right. Almost nine hours of Batman movies. Batman Begins starts at 6. The Dark Knight starts at 8:30. And The Dark Knight Rises at 12:01. I even checked with the theater and they said the people who see the whole trilogy will get first crack at seating for TDKR.

I've seen the first two movies about 10 times each. But I figured it would be cool to see then in the theater again. I think I only saw Begins twice in theater. And even though I saw TDK about 4 times in theater it should be great again. I'm a bit worried that my ass will be numb by the time I get to TDKR. But even if it is I'm sure the awesomeness of that movie will give me enough adrenaline to survive. Maybe I should buy one of those things you attach to yourself that you can pee into so that you don't have to miss the game/show.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Romney adviser wants to invade Syria, Iran and possibly Russia

Not surprisingly, that Romney adviser is John Bolton. He was the Bush administration's UN ambassador. And he's as hawkish a neocon as they come. Here's what he wrote:

In the days just after Saddam’s ouster in 2003, conditions were optimal (if nonetheless imperfect) for overthrowing Assad and replacing his regime with something compatible with American interests. We would not have needed to use U.S. ground forces. Our mere presence in Iraq could have precluded Iran — or, what we see today, an Iraq under Iran’s influence — from trying to protect Assad.
Significantly, U.S. intervention could not be confined to Syria and would inevitably entail confronting Iran and possibly Russia. This the Obama administration is unwilling to do, although it should.

So according to him, in 03 we should have tripled down and overthrown Syria along with Afghanistan and Iraq. It would have been crazy enough to think that back then. But he's had 9 years to see how shitty Afghanistan and Iraq have gone and still thinks it would have been and still is a good idea. That's bad enough.

He goes on to say we have to confront Iran, and that what the Obama administration has done with harsh sanctions apparently isn't enough of a confrontation. And beyond even that, he throws Russia in there for reasons I'm unaware of. Andrew Sullivan was mostly speechless when posting this and I am as well. This guy has never met a country he didn't want to invade. It's really amazing. And he'd probably have a fairly high up position in a Romney administration.

The Russia mention gives me the opportunity to bring up what Jonathan Bernstein has pegged on Twitter as #always1979 in response to inflation hawks. In my last post I said that phrase might be applicable to more than just inflation hawks. I think this, along with Romney's statement a while back about Russia being our greatest geopolitical foe, demonstrates that many Republicans still think it's 1979 on foreign policy issues. Obama may not be the change we wanted. But at least he's living in this century.

Friday, June 1, 2012

News flash: the economy still sucks

Matt Yglesias has the analysis of the latest job numbers:

The latest jobs report is a total disaster. We got 69,000 new jobs in May which is well below already tepid expectations and is below the labor force trend growth rate. Terrible.

But it gets worse!

“The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for March was revised from +154,000 to +143,000, and the change for April was revised from +115,000 to +77,000.” In other words, we gained 69,000 new jobs in May (estimated) but lost 49,000 in revisions. That leaves us with a net increase in employment of just 20,000. Disaster disaster disaster.
A lot of this is already getting fed through an election-year-politics lens, but it's important to remember that this is first and foremost a human tragedy for unemployed and underemployed people, and for employed workers who've been stripped of bargaining power due to persistent labor market weakness. If growth stays dismal and Barack Obama loses the election, he and Michelle and Jack Lew and Tim Geithner and all the rest will go on to have happy, healthy, prosperous lives. Other people's careers are much more in the balance. And the responsibility for addressing this crisis lies first and foremost with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the one institution in the U.S. government specifically charged with focusing on macroeconomic stabilization. For months now they've been dawdling instead of rolling up their sleeves and thinking as hard as they can about what to do to increase demand and employment.

There's obviously a political aspect to this. But the part I bolded is what struck me and part of the reason I've been a bit on the gloomy side lately. Like a lot of people, I'm beyond frustrated with the job market and how it pertains to my career and life in general. It's been two years since I got my masters degree and I've yet to find a job relative to my career. The best I've found is a job waiting tables (The best relative to my career is an internship, which is kind of a bullshit concept, but a topic for another post). I'm not sure how less educated people are doing it. And unlike myself, many people don't have the family to fall back on for financial support. They are the people Matt is talking about. And very little is being done to help them. Beyond my own frustration, it's a really sad state of affairs.

This isn't a case where people all of the sudden aren't able to perform jobs. The workforce didn't all of the sudden become unqualified for a massive amount of jobs. New graduates didn't all of the sudden become incapable of learning jobs. People also didn't all of the sudden become lazy, or more lazy, entitled, selfish, etc. The failure isn't on the people who can't find jobs. And they can't really do anything to solve the problem. That's the part that makes me angry.

As a country, we were failed massively by the financial industry and the gov't that was supposed to regulate it. The financial industry has likely not learned anything. And the gov't didn't do enough to respond to the failure or to prevent it from happening again. The one thing the people can do about the situation is pressure their representatives to change things. Until that happens we will continue to get terrible growth rates and suffer while those in charge do nothing.

Update: I've got to add this. After I published this post I clicked on Jonathan Berstein's blog and found his catch of the day from Paul Krugman which perfectly captured the spirit of my frustration with the people in charge of the economy and how they fucked everything up. I'm quoting basically all of it because it's fairly short:

Here's what Greenspan is worrying about these days:

The former central bank leader — nicknamed "The Maestro" by his supporters — said he worries the current economy could be heading on a path similar to 1979, when the 10-year Treasury note was yielding around 9 percent before surging dramatically, gaining 4 percentage points in just a few months.

Greenspan said (video at link) that he "remembers vividly" that in 1979 no one believed that interest rates could go higher "basically because the United States is not an inflation-prone economy." And then there was more inflation and interest rates did go higher! Well then. Never mind that inflation in 1979 was a decade-long problem and the (I guess unexpected; I suppose I'll trust Greenspan on that) spike in 1979 had nothing to do with federal budget deficits. Doesn't matter: it's always 1979! The real problem here is that it's entirely unclear why a missed spike in inflation is any more damaging than any other economic policy mistake. Especially now. Given that conditions now don't look anything at all like what was going on in 1979.

Anyway, Krugman:

[J]ust look at the man who insisted that credit default swaps had made the financial system stable, that there was no housing bubble, that the housing market was poised for recovery in 2006, telling us that with interest rates at their lowest levels ever, what we need to worry about most is … the threat of rising interest rates.


And: nice catch!

Unfuckingbelievable. As Matt said as well, interest rates are very low right now. And this guy is invoking a time in which interest rates were nearly 10 times the rate they are now. Krugman's speechlessness is the most appropriate reaction.

Jonathan hits on something interesting with his "It's always 1979" line. I'm not sure if he meant it broadly or just in economic terms, but I think it applies broadly to Republicans. They are completely stuck in the mindset of what things were like in 1979. I'll probably post more about this later. But "It's always 1979" is my new tagline for Republicans. So nice catch for Jonathan as well as Krugman.