Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Memphis Grizzlies trade Rudy Gay

We've known for some time that the front office wanted to get under the tax for next season. So it wasn't a surprise that the Grizzlies finally traded Rudy Gay to Toronto for Jose Calderon and Ed Davis. Toronto got rid of Calderon because his contract ends after this season. And for some reason they think Andrea Bargiani is better than Ed Davis, especially while Davis is on his rookie contract.

The only problem I had with this deal is that while Calderon is very good and Davis is pretty good, their positions don't fit with what the Grizzlies need. Davis should be a good backup to Zach Randolph and possibly Marc Gasol if he can play center. But Calderon is too good to be a backup to Mike Conley at PG, or vice versa since you could argue Calderon is better.

Just after I questioned who would play SF, the Grizzlies traded Calderon to the Pistons for Tayshaun Prince. Prince is making about 7-8 million for the next two years. So that, combined with Davis salary at about 2 million, gets the Griz below the tax. Prince is in his early 30s. So he isn't a long term solution. But frankly, I think simply getting rid of Rudy Gay's contract is a good thing. Don't get me wrong. Rudy Gay can be a good player. He was having a bad year this season. But he was just never worth a max deal. And it's better to keep paying better players while trying to find a cheaper alternative at SF.

One criticism I've heard a lot is why would the Grizzlies risk the success they are having this season. We are 4th in the West with Rudy Gay. The argument goes, why then would you mess with that when you can play the season out and trade him in the offseason. Well, as I said, Gay has been having a bad season. He's shooting 40% and 30% from 3. His rebounding and other parts of the game are about average. What that amounts to according to NBA Geek's formula is him getting the Grizzlies 1.3 wins this season. The average for a SF is 2. It's possible he could improve, getting back to his career levels and help the team go deep in the playoffs. But it's also possible that he keeps up this pace and really hurts the team's chances.

At this point Prince is playing better than Gay (43% from 3) and at half the cost. You could argue that Prince is less likely to play well from here on out. He is obviously past his prime, his last above average year being 2010-11. I would tend to agree if you said that Gay should play better than Prince next year. But one reason I like this deal and why it might improve the team this year is that Prince has always been a pretty good 3 point shooter, career 37%. So while he might regress from the 43% he's shooting so far, I don't think he'll drop too far. And 3 point shooting is something the Grizzlies badly need (we're 1.3% below league average and we're 29th in attempts). Gay has only had two years in which he was above average from 3 and for his career his is below average from 3 for a SF.

If Prince can just be average in most areas of the game while shooting above average from 3 the Griz should improve. I'm not sure it will be enough to beat the Thunder, Spurs and Clippers. But we should be able to keep the 4th seed. And we'll be able to do so without paying the tax. I'd say that makes this a good trade.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Not all markets are the same

Josh Barro gives a good explanation for why Ramesh Ponnuru's (one of the sane conservatives out there) health care proposal probably wouldn't work, or at least wouldn't work as well as Obamacare (I usually avoid using that term, even though it's probably going to shift to be a positive term. I guess I'm just being lazy today). Give it a read. If you don't want to read the whole thing, he basically says that the plan wouldn't work in part because it would require things Republicans don't want to do, regulate the market and increase both spending (for high risk pools) and taxes. He mentions another reason very briefly:

If that pitch sounds familiar, it's because, with the exception of cost control through competition, Obamacare will already achieve these goals -- and Obamacare has its own cost-control strategies. (The idea of cost control through competition is also far from a sure thing in health-care markets.) Why should middle-class Americans who either have health insurance or are about to get it through Obamacare be eager to junk that plan for an untested alternative that might actually make it harder to get insurance?

The health care market is much different than other "normal" markets. Take the restaurant market as an example of a normal market. You hear X restaurant is good from a friend so you go try it. Based on the quality of the food, the price, the service, the atmosphere, etc., you form an opinion about the overall product and in the future decide whether or not to buy that product again. Enough people have different enough tastes and purchasing power that there happens to be a lot of other restaurants out there that you can choose if you don't like the product restaurant X is offering. And access to those other products is pretty easily available. This isn't the case with the health care market.

First of all, before you even start the process of choosing which product (a doctor or hospital) you want to purchase, you probably have to buy an insurance policy that will help you pay for the product. That's because the product can be extremely expensive and not many people can afford it out of pocket. Sine the insurance company is helping you foot the bill, they try to minimize their risk when they afford you a plan. The greater risk you are to get sick the more likely the insurance company is to have to spend a lot of money on you. Thus they charge you more for a plan. Insurance companies used to be able to not offer you a plan or drop you from a plan you were paying for if they deemed you to be too high a risk. So by little fault of your own, you could be barred from or charged extremely high fees to just enter the market and start shopping.

Once you're in the market, it's kind of up to you which product you choose. It can depend on whether a doctor or hospital take your insurance plan or how much of the product your insurance decides to pay for. Unlike in a restaurant, you often don't have many choices as to which specific product you buy. If you need a triple bypass in order to save your life then that's simply what you have to purchase. If that's the case, you obviously want the best doctor available who can perform that procedure. But that's not really something a health care customer is well equipped to judge. Even if they were, they couldn't choose to get a discount for getting the "worse" doctor to do the procedure. From what I understand, the cost of a procedure doesn't vary much from hospital/doctor to hospital/doctor (someone correct me if I'm wrong). So you can't say, "Well, I want the lobster. But I don't have much money right now. I'll just get the catfish.".

The main point here is that your choices are greatly restricted in the health care market. And along with that, the information about the product you want to buy is restricted to your knowledge of modern medicine. Both of those things make the health care market different and inefficient to the consumer because the ability to choose between multiple options is what makes markets somewhat efficient. If restaurant X makes a bad product that no one likes people can just go to restaurant Y or Z. The gov't doesn't need to regulate that market because the costs to the consumers are low and they have a lot of choices. The gov't needs to regulate the health care market because insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, nurses, and the consumer inherently don't have the same choices and the product is too expensive. Most developed countries have figured this out and therefore allow their gov'ts to heavily regulate or control the market. I'm not sure Obamacare can do enough to avoid that type of future in the US.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 gets cancelled

How much did I love this show? It had moved all the way up to #2 on my DVR prioritizer (just behind Community). I went on a run from the start of the second season through about the time where ABC started running episodes out of order where I saved every episode because they were so good. I very rarely let an episode of any show stay on my DVR. So the fact that I have close to 10 episodes of Apt 23 saved says something.

Unfortunately, what that says is that this is more of a cult show than a big mainstream hit. The very fact that I like a tv show means it's different than most other shows. I hate cliche tv. I've seen every trope there is. And unless you can at least present a trope in a new way I don't care. Community is the best example of actively inverting cliches, which is why it's my favorite show. Another example is The Big Bang Theory. The show is rife with cliches. But I watch it because it's at least presented in a unique way, through characters that are "geeks". I like it because I'm a geek like them. So it blunts the cliches, though sometimes not enough for me to roll my eyes.

Apt 23 doesn't invoke many cliches I can think of. I guess it's a female version of The Odd Couple, which is such an old show that the similarities didn't even occur to me until someone pointed it out yesterday when news of the cancelation broke. You can argue that the Odd Couple thing is a cliche. I'd tend to agree. But the reason it works with Apt 23 is because the two main characters are female. And while the concept might be a trope, they aren't very cliche characters.

June is kind of a cliche small town girl while Chloe is kind of a cliche big city girl. But they are deep, quirky, and likable enough to overcome those labels. That's in no small part to the two awesome actors who play the characters, Dreama Walker and Krysten Ritter. Dreama plays June with just enough naiveté that we root for her. And Krysten plays Chloe with enough charm that we root for her even though she can be crazy.

And of course there is James Van Der Beek, playing a dramatized version of himself. They have him do stuff that is just ridiculous enough to be funny but not make him seem like a too unrealistic version of himself. I can't think of any instance where the character didn't work. He was funny nearly all the time.

In one sense I have to applaud ABC for developing and airing the show. Like NBC with Community and Fox with Firefly, they could just as easily decided not to do the show at all and put a more safe show on tv that was more likely to get a bigger audience. But apparently some people that help run these networks see some value in trying to create something more than a cliche sitcom.

While these people seem willing to try it, they don't seem willing to carry through with it for too long amidst low ratings. But what they don't seem to get (or to be fair, what may not add up $ wise) is that the audience for shows like Apt 23, Community, Firefly, and Chuck (which I've been rewatching and falling in love with all over again) are more dedicated than those of more popular shows. Until networks figure out how to take advantage of this fact I fear the fans will continue to have their hearts broken. And that may have the effect of us not trying new shows because we are scared of being hurt, which in turn hurts the network. Meanwhile, I want to thank everyone involved in Apt 23. It was great while it last. Best wishes in the future.

Iranian nukes, again

I guess I'll just keep banging this drum until people change their minds. But at least I'll spare you the two papers I wrote on Iran's nuclear program in grad school. I'll just summarize for you. First, Dan Drezner thinks Tom Friedman's suggestions for the new Secretary of State's interactions with Iran are dangerous. He quotes Friedman:

Rather than negotiating with Iran’s leaders in secret — which, so far, has produced nothing and allows the Iranian leaders to control the narrative and tell their people that they’re suffering sanctions because of U.S. intransigence — why not negotiate with the Iranian people? President Obama should put a simple offer on the table, in Farsi, for all Iranians to see: The U.S. and its allies will permit Iran to maintain a civil nuclear enrichment capability — which it claims is all it wants to meet power needs — provided it agrees to U.N. observers and restrictions that would prevent Tehran from ever assembling a nuclear bomb.

Dan's response:

Friedman seems to think that ordinary Iranians are implacably opposed to the nuclear program. I have yet to read any analysis or on-the-ground reporting (including the NYT) that suggests this to be true. Rather, the common theme is that Iranians take nationalist pride in the technological accomplishments of their national nuclear program. Furthermore, in a propaganda war between the U.S. government and their own government, the U.S. is probably gonna lose even if it possesses the better argument. For all of Friedman's loose talk about the power of social media in a digitized world, he elides the point that one of the sentiments that social media is best at magnifying is nationalism. In the case of Iran, this would mean a more recalcitrant negotiating partner.

Like Dan, I haven't read anything suggesting the Iranian people oppose their state's nuclear policy. In fact, I've read the opposite, and it relates to the nationalism that Dan speaks of. Nationalism being a significant reason a nation wants to be a nuclear power isn't unique to Iran. Just off the top of my head, a strong argument could be made that it played a big part in France becoming a nuclear power. Other examples escape me at the moment. But the point is that this isn't without precedent.

So why is nationalism a reason Iran wants to be a nuclear power? Surely every nation has at least some level of nationalism running through it's policy making. Why don't more nations want nukes? Iran is different than many nations. They have a long history of being invaded by other nations. When your history is one in which you are always being attacked, it's probably going to affect you. It's not just about being invaded. They have been meddled with, such as when the US staged a fake revolution in order to overthrow their leader and replace him with someone friendly to the US. Reasonable people should be able to acknowledge that it's reasonable for such a nation to not like this sort of involvement in it's affairs (the exception seems to be Israel's involvement in the US's politics, though Israel does nothing close to the level we did in Iran).

Iranians feel like they have been treated unfairly by the west. So their nationalism kind of combines with a sense of insecurity. They want to be a powerful and independent nation that doesn't get invaded and meddled with. They've had a traditional military for all of their history and that hasn't worked in achieving that goal. So now, with the US invading it's neighbor and in general having a strong presence in the region, what would the Iranians do to ensure their safety? Recent history suggests that being a nuclear power prevents nations from screwing with you. Beyond security, it's a symbol of power. It provides people with a sense that they have accomplished something great and something that only an elite few possess.

That feeling of security and national pride is a big reason I don't think Iran would use their nuclear weapons in an offensive manner. It would defeat the purpose of becoming a nuclear power to just turn around and use it, thus inviting your own destruction. But back to the point of this post, these feelings aren't just that of the Iranian leaders. Even the opposition parties agree with the current Iranian regime on this issue. That's because their national identity is deep seated and not tied to partisan internal politics. So Friedman's suggestion is moot. There just isn't a big enough coalition to make the 'no nukes' argument to. If you don't want Iran to become a nuclear power you need to find another route. I haven't heard any compelling ones.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Memphis Grizzlies trade 3, cut payroll

There have been rumors for a while now that the Grizzlies would trade Rudy Gay in order to get below the luxury tax for next season. Gay was seen as the most likely to be traded because while he is a good player, he isn't a great player who justifies his big contract. Zach Randolph was seen as another player who could be traded because of his big contract and age. But he is less likely since he is arguably the most loved Grizzly and is a better player than Gay.

Those rumors were temporarily put to rest today when the Grizzlies traded Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future first round draft pick to Cleveland for Jon Leuer. This deal doesn't make much sense aside from a purely financial one, that of getting below the luxury tax. Here's a useful side by side comparison of all the players involved from The NBA Geek. In short, all of these players are below average.

Speights has amassed 2.7 wins in his 4 years in the league. That's just below average. Ellington has 2 wins, which is well below average. Selby has -1.3, which is terrible. And Leuer has .6 wins, which is terrible. That's all for their careers. You could chalk up Sebly and Leuer's lack of production to being young and not getting a lot of playing time. If that's the case, they have a long way to go before being productive.

Ellington and Speights have more experience, thus I think we can be safer in judging them. Ellington only does one thing well, which is shoot 3s. He was doing that pretty well this year. But since Tony Allen is a better player there just isn't much room for Ellington. So it's not a big deal that he's gone. Speights shows flashes of being an average player. He seems to be a decent rebounder, shooter, and doesn't turn the ball over much. A big problem with him is shot selection. He loves deep 2s, which are the worst % shot you can take. If he could cut down on those shots he could be an average player. But since Randolph and Gasol are better players, there just isn't much room for him.

So the Grizzlies aren't giving up much in terms of personnel. What I don't like about the trade is that Leuer isn't good and the 1st round draft pick is valuable. I don't know what the trade market for these 3 players was like. So I can't say much about what we could have gotten back in return. But the 1st round pick strikes me as giving away a bit much, even if this was just about cutting salary. That pick is a way to get a potentially good player at a cheap price.

One good thing that may come from this deal is the players we sign to fill the roster spots. We could also still trade Rudy Gay for a cheaper small forward, like Mike Dunleavy (if that's possible), and probably not do any harm to the team, possibly improving it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The declining value of truth and justice

You've probably heard about the bizarre Mantai Te'o story in which his girlfriend was a hoax. You've probably also heard that after years of strongly denying cheating and suing people who said he was lying, Lance Armstrong admitted that he was cheating and lying. You might have heard about how the baseball hall of fame didn't vote in anyone this year despite the fact that Barry Bonds and Rodger Clemens are two of the best players ever. They weren't voted in because they are expected of cheating and lying about it.

Those are all stories that really don't mean a whole lot in and of themselves. In the end they are just about sports, except for Armstrong suing people. He needs to compensate those people. But I think those stories demonstrate a larger tendency in our country, which is the declining value of truth and consequences it that arise from it. Those sports stories are pretty straightforward in why the truth was ignored. They all wanted fame and fortune. And the consequences of not telling the truth have been relatively mild, while the liars have prospered greatly. They are all rich, or in Te'o's case, will be.

The more troubling cases of either lying or ignoring the truth have been in large supply lately. Staying on campus, the Notre Dame angle of the Te'o story was the most important to me. The Notre Dame athletic direct cried on tv while talking about the story and the school hired a private investigator to find the truth. But last year, a girl named Lizzy Seeberg accused a Notre Dame football player of rape. That same athletic director didn't hire a private investigator to find out the truth. Nor did he go on tv and cry when Seeberg committed suicide after being harassed by football players to stop making the allegations she was making. Notre Dame hardly seems alone in not trying to find out the truth in regard to rape on campus, which Jessica Valenti documents here.

Zero Dark Thirty is still the hot movie right now. Just the other day Jon Stewart interviewed the main actor, fawning over her and the movie. The movie depicts how we tortured people. We know this happened in part because people within the CIA and other organizations spoke out in protest. Because of Obama wanting to "look forward", none of those people who broke the law have been prosecuted. But one of the persons who leaked info about actions that are against the law is being prosecuted. And as I've said before about that film, they were given special access to info about the hunt for bin Laden. Yet we as the American public can't be trusted with all of the facts. The truth isn't for us.

I could go on and on, with stories like the bank in England that laundered money for drug cartels and "terrorists". The bank explicitly broke the law. No one argues they didn't. But no one is being prosecuted because the bank is too big. Stop me if you've heard that excuse before. In relation to America's too big to fail problem, you probably haven't heard that TARP, the bill that gave money to the banks so that they didn't collapse, was supposed to dole out about $45 billion dollars in order to help under water homeowners and thus help stabilize the housing industry. This was a big reason Democrats in the Senate voted for TARP. But that money was never spent. Meanwhile millions continue to suffer in a bad economy and the banks are rolling along without suffering any consequences whatsoever.

A society that places a high value on truth and justice does not allow these things to happen without consequences. Only a sick and depraved culture like the one in college football allows for such things like what happened at Notre Dame and Penn State. Only a culture of incredible greed and corruption allows itself to make outrageous and fraudulent bets that nearly collapse the world economy. And only a gov't that is represented by people who are supported by those cultures allow their illegal and immoral transgressions to go unpunished.

Frankly, it's kind of scary if you aren't part of these cultures, an athlete on a college campus or a wealthy person. Because if you're not part of those cultures you are subject to the full extent of the law. And as a result you are subject to much harsher punishment for committing much less serious crimes. For us, the truth isn't enough. For the elites in our country, the truth is nothing. (This post is a win just because I was able to squeeze that The Dark Knight quote in at the end)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The charter school push in TN

I came across this article on school reform in TN via LeftWingCracker on Twitter. Here's what's going on in TN:

StudentsFirst political contributions to candidates for the Tennessee state Legislature and local school boards totaled $470,000 at last report -- with a final report on November and December spending due to be filed with the state Registry of Election Finance later this month. That surpassed the total of the state's teachers union, Tennessee Education Association, which had political contributions totaling about $327,000 during the same period.

Most of the StudentsFirst money distributed in Tennessee went to Republicans. StudentsFirst gave $40,000 to the House and Senate Republican caucuses, for example, versus $10,000 to their Democratic equivalents.

What's the legislative goal of the StudentsFirst group and why do they tend to give to Republicans?:
The top priority for StudentsFirst in the 2013 session, Rhee said, is a "statewide authorizer" for charter schools, meaning a state body could approve establishment of a charter school even if it is opposed by a local school board. The group also is pushing a voucher system for low-income students, Rhee said, and a stronger "parent trigger" law, which would allow parents in a low-performing school to initiate a move to create a charter school.

Here's more:

Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, doesn't like Rhee's potential influence on Tennessee education.

On Friday, she called it "really selfish for people like Ms. Rhee to come to Tennessee and her ex-husband is the commissioner of education. That just doesn't sit well with me. I think there might be a conflict there. ... She's out trying to get vouchers."
...
In 2011, the Republican-dominated Legislature stripped the union of its collective bargaining powers. Though Haslam hadn't come out in favor of the bill, he signed it. Huffman became commissioner more than midway through the 2011 session.

People like Rhee and Republicans say in public that this is about the kids, that they just want what is best for them. But I tend to think that's bullshit. First of all, look at how Republicans behave in every other facet of governing. They don't give a shit about poor people or children. If they did they wouldn't balk at expanding Medicaid on the dollar of the generous federal gov't via the Affordable Care Act. I'm less sure someone like Rhee's heart isn't in the right place. I'll assume it is. But I'm not sure what leads her to say vouchers for charter schools is the way to go.

Republicans obviously want to destroy another union, teacher's unions being one of the last remaining unions with some power. They also don't like that public schools teach things like science and don't teach kids christianity. They want to be able to send kids to a school that will only teach them the things they want them to know. They also think that privatization is the cure all to everything. They hate the gov't when it's not directly benefitting them so they jump at the chance to get gov't out of something and put money into the pockets of wealthy white people who will donate to their campaigns.

Even if you assume that Republicans and Rhee are all about the kids and really want to reform schools for the better, why is vouchers for charter schools the answer? This policy only gives vouchers to certain kids that allows them to not go to the "bad" school they attend and go to the "good" school that will be better for them (the supposedly good schools being christian private schools, which should run into first amendment issues if it weren't for a ridiculous supreme court).

First of all, where's the evidence that this works? Second of all, if it did work, why should only certain kids have the ability to go to better schools? If your goal is to improve education and thus kids' lives across the board, shouldn't you look to improve every school, not just move a few kids from bad schools to good schools? That's what the evil, non-kids first teacher's union wants. What's StudentsFirst and Republicans' plan for all the kids that don't get vouchers? What is being done to improve their lives? I don't know. And I don't trust Republicans, especially ones in Tennessee, to provide the answer.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Awards season

Tonight was the Golden Globes. I only know this because it was all over Twitter. For the most part I avoid award shows, especially those for music. Music award shows are particularly terrible in that they honor a ton of horrible shit while ignoring the hard rock and metal genres. Don't get me started on country music. Those vain assholes have an award show every other month.

I don't care about movie and tv award shows for similar reasons, mainly that they ignore the genres I care about. I get that my tastes aren't very mainstream, especially when it comes to tv. So it doesn't bother me that much that a show like Community doesn't get much love. But something that bugs me about the movie side is the fact that some of the stuff I love is mainstream, thus is ignored for other reasons. Take The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers this year. Those were the most popular movies of the year. And they were widely acclaimed by both critics and audiences. But neither of them got any respect from any of award shows.

Ok, so the Oscars gave the award to Heath Ledger in 08 for The Dark Knight. But that has been the exception that proves the rule. Notice that the movie itself didn't get nominated. And that seems to be because voters don't respect the genre. I can't think of any other reason than old norms which say that comic or fantasy movies aren't "serious" movies. I find that to be very weird considering many dramas that get nominated are basically made up stories, just like comics and fantasies.

Take Le Miserable. What is normal or serious about people spontaneously bursting into song during a movie? Who does that in real life? Don't get me wrong. Even though I don't "get" musicals at all, I respect that it's an art form and part of it's own genre that deserves to be recognized. By most accounts Le Mis is an emotionally powerful movie, which is why it's getting nominated and why the awesome Anne Hathaway is being awarded.

But what makes that movie fundamentally different than a movie about a guy dressing as a bat and fighting crime? They're both movies that depict things that don't happen in the real world. Every movie that isn't a documentary does this. And that's why they have a separate category for documentaries. They are fundamentally different than movies like Zero Dark Thirty or Argo.

Once we establish that a movie like Argo, which was good but not as good as many made it out to be, is a movie in the sense that it doesn't conform 100% with reality, I don't see why it can't be compared right along side with The Dark Knight Rises. Because in the end, all of these movie's goals is to make you feel something on an emotional level; whether that be love, hate, laughter, etc. Once those emotions are there it shouldn't matter what type of movie it is.

Until the people nominating and awarding movies start to recognize that I can be moved just as much by Batman sacrificing himself for his city as I can by a fictionalized account of Lincoln reading his second inaugural address I will continue not to care about these shows.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The debt ceiling and the platinum coin

There have been many arguments made on the blogs that the platinum coin is a legal way to avoid default on the debt if Republicans in the House refuse to raise the debt ceiling. I'm largely sympathetic to those arguments, and to those who say it's a crazy idea. It kind of is. But it's not more crazy than the idea that the Republicans shouldn't raise the debt ceiling simply for the sake of it without getting something in return. So it makes some sense to want to respond to a crazy tactic with a crazy tactic of your own.

But Ezra Klein makes the case that the way to solve the problem isn't with your own crazy tactic (the platinum coin):

The argument against minting the platinum coin is simply this: It makes it harder to solve the actual problem facing our country. That problem is not the debt ceiling, per se, though it manifests itself most dangerously through the debt ceiling. It’s a Republican Party that has grown extreme enough to persuade itself that stratagems like threatening default are reasonable. It’s that our two-party political system breaks down when one of the two parties comes unmoored. Minting the coin doesn’t so much solve that problem as surrender to it.

I'm with Ezra here. The best way to address the reckless behavior of Republicans is to just refuse to negotiate with them and tell them unequivocally that we will let them not raise the debt ceiling and force us to default. The problem is that we don't know how they will react to that. Some of them seem crazy enough to want to default and then blame the consequences on Obama and "runaway spending". And the problem with that is it's an easier sell to the public than explaining why Republicans are being crazy in this situation. But Ezra thinks Republicans will cave:

The fact is that after losing the 2012 election, and with the business community mobilizing against the threat of default, the leadership of the Republican Party is going to have a terrible time holding its members together on the debt ceiling. Even more problematic, from the perspective of conservative hard-liners, is that many of the GOP’s leaders are themselves scared of the debt ceiling and looking for a way out. There is a very good chance that this fight can be won and these tactics discredited.

I suppose this is the case since Ezra has sources much better than my non-existant ones. And people like John Boehner do seem to have non-crazy tendencies. So I certainly think it's possible Republicans would end up breaking if Obama is steadfast in his willingness to not negotiate. Ezra concludes:

There are two ways to truly resolve the debt-ceiling standoff. One is that the Republican Party needs to break, proving to itself and to the country that the adults remain in charge. The other is that America is pushed into default and voters — and the world — reckon with what we’ve become, and what needs to be done about it. Sadly, there’s no easy way out. It’s heads America wins, tails America loses.

He's convinced me that this is the best path. I obviously hope Republican break and just raise the debt ceiling. But if they aren't willing to do so I think defaulting and letting people see the consequences of Republicans' actions might help push the party to a breaking point in which they stop acting like a crazy party and start governing like adults. It's possible they could stick to their guns after a default and try to blame it on Obama. But I think it's a risk worth taking because this will not be the last confrontation between House Republicans and Obama. If he takes a hard stance here it could get him better results in other negotiations. And hopefully the people who feel the negative consequences of default will think twice before voting for a party that allows it to happen.

Monday, January 7, 2013

America, Fuck Yeah!!!: torture edition

Jose Rodriguez, formerly of the CIA, tries to come up with some bullshit justification for torture, saying that they just had to talk and the "techniques" would stop. That prompts Paul Waldman to ask people like Rodriguez to give a definition of torture that wouldn't include the "techniques" we used. And that prompts Kevin Drum to ask:

...if you think the CIA torture program was OK, presumably that means you wouldn't be outraged if the same techniques were used on U.S. soldiers in order to extract information from them. Right? It can't possibly be the case that it's OK for us to do this stuff, but not for anyone else, can it? Given that, the only sensible interpretation of Rodriguez's position is that the CIA program wasn't torture and therefore should be thought of as the new baseline for treatment of enemy combatants throughout the world.

Presumably Kevin is right. But that's not the way these people work. To them it is ok for the US to do this stuff while at the same time saying the rest of the world can't. The right, and it appears a significant portion of defense agencies/industry, has internalized this belief in American exceptionalism that means we can do what we want and dictate to everyone else what they can do.

I can easily see Republicans freaking out if one of our soldiers or a pretty white girl was subjected to the same torture techniques we applied to people. I could easily see most Democrats, including Obama, freaking out in a similar manner. In fact, just today, Obama announced he is nominating John Brennan for CIA director. This is a guy who, as Glenn Greenwald points out, has endorsed torture and lied about whether drone strikes have killed civilians.

The public either doesn't care or agrees with Obama and Republicans on these issues. Chris Hayes had polling on his show yesterday showing that pretty big majorities of both parties think we should keep Gitmo open and support Obama's drone policies. I'll chalk some of this up to people just not knowing what those policies really entail. But even if everyone knew I think it would only change their opinions slightly. That's because just like most politicians, the public has this America, Fuck Yeah!!! attitude in which we are always right and can do whatever we want and the rest of the world should act how we want them to.

This thinking is only exacerbated by Obama's refusal to prosecute anyone involved in torture and his continued horrible policies like drones, indefinite detention, warrantless spying, etc. If we actually prosecuted people who broke the law maybe people would start to realize that the law means something and just because you have power or are the most powerful country in the world doesn't mean you are above the law.

Slow blogging

I've been in a blogging slump lately. There hasn't been much politics to talk about. The fiscal curb deal was too annoying to devote too much time to discussing. The deal they made wasn't terrible. Though it's further proof that Republicans, and to some extent Democrats, don't care at all about non-rich people that they let the payroll tax holiday expire without batting an eye while they fought long and hard for to raise the income level at which income taxes went up.

Another reason blogging has been slow is because of the holidays. I'm not a big fan of christmas. It's nice to get free stuff. But all of the other stuff surrounding it is annoying. Plus it's the time of year where it seems like everyone gets sick, including me. When I'm sick I revert back to being a little kid, helpless and whinny.

I'm also frustrated with another round of job hunting that hasn't gone anywhere. I don't know what the hell I'm going to do. I'm strongly considering going into teaching since I enjoy academics. I'm just not sure I can handle dealing with kids all day, especially younger ones. If anyone has any advice on the job front I welcome it.

Now for some random thoughts:

Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 was on tonight, for some reason. It's normal time is Tuesdays. But hey, I'll take as much as they are willing to show. And as it's been all season, the show was great. Kristen Ritter and Dreama Walker are just super adorable and really talented. I could watch those two read the phone book, if they make them anymore. And James Van Der Beak is so funny. I highly recommend the show. It's my second favorite to Community right now. Oh, and Kristen Ritter favorited one of my tweets on Twitter. SQUEEEEE!!!!!!

I bought my brother The Dark Knight Trilogy on Bluray for christmas. Needless to say if you follow this blog, this is now my favorite trilogy, surpassing the original Star Wars trilogy.

Chris Hayes' show "Up with Chris Hayes" weekends on MSNBC is must watch tv. It's great political discussion.

The radio in Memphis sucks, particular when it comes to rock music. It's all Def Leppard and soft rock. Very little hard rock. Almost no metal. Criminal underplaying of old school Metallica. Speaking of, I learned some of "Creeping Death" on the guitar today. Great song.

I watched The Big Lebowski again and loved it. I had watched it with my ex girlfriend but I must have been distracted by her because I didn't appreciate how awesome it was. John Goodman is incredibly funny in it.

Quick movie roundup: The Hobbit was better than I was expecting. This is 40 is way different than what they marketed it as. It's really dark and too long. Django Unchained is a lot of fun. Typical Tarantino, in a good way.

Best christmas gift so far aside from Battlestar Galactica on Bluray, Jordan sweatpants. If it wasn't a sign of giving up I'd pull a George Costanza and drape myself in them at least half the time in public.

Speaking of Seinfeld, I just watched the episode where Susan dies from licking toxic stamps. It's funny. But it's also kind of disturbing how non-shalantly they treat her death.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Has the GOP reached peak anti-Muslim?

Adam Serwer and Tim Murphy have the reporting. First, just in case you didn't think Herman Cain was really as crazy as he appeared, there's this:

One private intervention came during the summer of 2011, when then-GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain attended one of Norquist's weekly, off-the-record breakfasts, a gathering for DC's conservative elite. The assembled big-shots were disturbed by some of Cain's comments on the campaign trail about Muslims. A Think Progress reporter had captured him boasting that he would never appoint a Muslim as a member of his cabinet. Weeks later Cain had argued that cities like Murfreesboro, Tennessee—where activists were attempting to block a new Islamic center—should be allowed to outlaw the construction of mosques.

"It really bothers me when you say this, because that's scary," Norquist recalls one of the participants, who was Jewish, saying. Cain sought to reassure his hosts that only Muslims would be subjected to a loyalty test before serving in his administration. "Oh no, not Jews—just Muslims,'" he said. But Norquist's other guests were insistent: "You're not getting it."

After the meeting, Cain's tone shifted noticeably. He took a much-publicized visit to a mosque in Northern Virginia to make amends.

That's pretty freaking nuts. But I'm encouraged by Norquist and his group's ability to temper Cain's and other conservatives' anti-Muslim public sentiments. Losing elections certainly helps quell such things. But at least some people within the conservative movement recognized it wasn't a smart thing to do.

Adam and Tim seem to suggest we have reached the peak of anti-Muslim sentiment in the GOP. Who knows? They're certainly correct that it won't go away overnight. Politicians may be less weary of making public statements. But there is still FoxNews, which is always in search of a "controversy" that it can use to fill up the news cycle and give it's pundits something to blather on about.