Thursday, May 31, 2012

Working on the finale

Trying to figure out a way to finish the religion series without alienating anyone, so it'll be another day.

Until then, a brief bit about Romney's experience as a private equity manager and as a venture capitalist.  Today, he derided the failed government investment in Solyndra as an example of "public equity", which for starters gives the loan program (which to remind everyone was started under Bush) that vague whiff of socialism that comes with the word "public".  More importantly, it allows Romney to conflate private equity, which is mostly what he did at Bain acquiring companies in leveraged buyouts, and venture capital, which is what the Solyndra loan was most similar to.  Venture capital is rich guys giving money to smart guys.  Private equity is rich guys buying smart guys' companies and doing whatever is most profitable for the rich guys, whether it be saving the company or gutting it.  Since Romney hope to wrap himself in his Bain experience to make him look like a job creator, it would beneficial to him if people confused private equity and venture capital.

Here's a good Op-Ed that explores the distinction, as well as other aspects of Romney's record.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This might make NWest's head explode

Spent most of the evening programming a cable remote, since technology makes our lives so much easier, so I'm taking a quick break from the religion discussion.  Instead, I'm going to take a quick look at a bill for which there are no fewer than three features which would make it appalling to Austrians and libertarians, like frequent commenter and friend of the blog NWest.  Here's an article which describes the bill.

1.  The bill focuses on a bank which was affected by the Dodd-Frank finance reform act.  Because its assets were just over $15 billion by a certain date, it was forced by Dodd-Frank to have a higher capital reserve, or amount of cash it is required by law to have in its possession at any time.  It's kind of like the law in Ocean's Eleven that forced the casino to keep a bunch of chips in the vault on the night of the heist.

2.  Because the capital reserve requirement would fuck over this one bank in New York, which donates to lots of politicians including one Barack Hussein Obama, it looks suspicious when people are supporting this bill which would only affect this one bank and allow it to essentially have $300 million that it's allowed to spend instead of having to keep it in reserve.  The bank essentially gets $300 million as a result of this bill, and it's donated lots of money to lots of people, including the President.  This item actually looks bad whether or not you're an Austrian.

3.  But it's not just any corporation kinda-sorta getting $300 million as the result of a single act of Congress.  It's a bank, which thanks to fractional reserve banking, can turn that $300 million into $4.5 billion in loans, essentially indirectly altering the monetary policy of the nation through an expansion of the money supply.

What makes it especially tough is that most people pretty much agree that the bank shouldn't have to kick in the extra cash, but it has to under the law as it stands today.  Doing what would make logical sense  requires lots of people who would have a powerful reason (lots of donations) to do the bank's bidding no matter what to vote for a bill that only helps one rich corporation, but would, at least to a Keynesian, help everybody.

Quite a sticky situation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why 1600 years of dominance still matters

So let's say you're considering leaving your parents' religion, and luckily you have a supportive family that wouldn't make you feel guilty for leaving the faith.  You're also able to look past the sunk costs of the time spent on religious activities.  You're fortunate enough to live in a region of the world where you can't be fired or otherwise lose your livelihood.

This last one is a recent development.  For almost 1600 years, leaving the church was economically impossible.   Thankfully, now atheists can leave the church without a particularly strong likelihood of financial harm.  But for all that time of financial/economic/overall dominance, the church was able to select the greatest minds of history to help its cause.

For our budding atheist trying to reason out his beliefs, they find themselves met with one body of argument created by greatest minds of the dominant organization of human history, while on the other side prior to the rise of the internet you have, what, Nietsche and Bertrand Russell?  And that's if you live in a community where Nietzsche and Russell are available in your local library or bookstore.  Otherwise, it's one questioner's thoughts against 1600 years of world-class ideas.  With the rise of the internet as well as a growing body of atheist writers and customers, the balance may shift at least somewhat as those without faith are more able to freely share their ideas.  But the accumulated works of Paul, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, John Calvin, John Wesley and the rest of the intellectual elite for most of recorded history makes for a tough hill to climb.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Barriers to leaving religion: Part 2

As touched on briefly in Part 1, one's involvement with their parents' religion often begins right off the bat, before the child is even able to sit up, babble or do anything much at all.  From the first moments of conscious awareness, one already has a religious social identity and social network within the religion.  To the person wrestling with a decision to stay in the church, these would have to be sacrificed if one were to leave.

Many questioners also have parents, grandparents and other family members who would feel personally harmed by their family member leaving the church.  It would be like being on Let's Make a Deal, where you can choose one of three doors, but if you don't choose Door #1, it's going to make your grandmother cry.

From the believer's point of view, their loved one is giving up an eternity in Heaven, and it's understandable that they would become upset.  But the fact remains that, because of the structure of major religious belief systems and the social pressure that results, lots of people stay in the religion when they should otherwise leave, damaging both themselves and the religion.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Medical tests, false positives and how Jesus was right

I feel I need to back up a little bit and discuss how the church is harmed by the barriers to leaving the church I'll be discussing in my next few posts, as well as yesterday's.  To do it, I have to first go over some medical decision-making strategy.  Please bear with me.  And, for the record, I am not implying in the following that either religious or atheist people have a disease; it's just a metaphor.

In the medical field, our clinical pathology friends work to figure out which lab results indicate disease and which don't.  For example, if you were to check the amount of a molecule called creatinine as a marker for kidney disease, and you graphed the creatinine levels of healthy people and of people with kidney disease, you'd wind up with a graph that looks kind of like the one above, where you'd have two overlapping bell curves.  Some people who are healthy might have a somewhat high creatinine level, while some people with kidney disease might have a lower level for one reason or another.  The clinical pathologist's job is to decide where to draw the cutoff between a "normal" result indicating good kidney health, and an "abnormal" result which suggests further evaluation.  If you make the cutoff too low (at point A above), you'll get lots of false positive results (people with healthy kidneys but whose tests are judged abnormal).  If you make it too high (at point B above), you get false negatives, with your test failing to correctly identify lots of people with bad kidneys.

In the context of barriers to leaving the religion into which one is born, the two groups being compared would be not people with or without a disease, but "True Believers" and "non-True Believers".  The "diagnostic test" being "administered" is the questioning person's own judgment of whether or not to leave the religion.  The barriers to leaving the religion are factors that move the "cutoff point" such that there are more false positives, which would be people who stay in the church who based on their degree of faith/beliefs should leave.

So given these barriers to leaving, you wind up with lots of people staying in the church despite not having true belief.  Is such an idea an unfair attack on the church?  Actually, a fellow by the name of Jesus said in Matthew 7 that "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  He goes on to say “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"

Jesus predicted a situation where many within the church would not be true believers.  It is my assertion, which I will discuss over the rest of the series of posts, that these barriers to leaving the church harm both those who would otherwise leave the church and the church itself, by keeping non-believers in the pews.  I certainly don't want the series to be interpreted as against religion.  With that in mind, the final post of the series will be a proposal on how the church can repair itself by returning to its pre-Constantine roots.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Barriers to leaving religion: Part 1

Over the course of a few posts, I'd like to take a look at how people leave, or consider leaving, the religion into which they were born.  Because of my own experience with leaving religion, many of the examples contained within will involve the Christian church, but I don't think the issues raised are in any way peculiar to Christianity.  I also think the issues raised are internal matters particular to members of whichever religion, which means that it's nothing (I think) I get terribly fired up about.  It's most certainly nothing I would ever lose friends or sleep over.

Most of the issues discussed will stem from involving children in the religion.  At the very beginning of most people's association with religion, they are placed at the center of a major religious ceremony, such as a bris or baptism.  They continue in the religion throughout their childhood before they reach the age where they are capable of questioning their association.  So they at some point reach the point where they questions their association with the religion of their parents.  Given the sheer number of hours spent on church activities between ones birth and one's questioning of one's own involvement with the Church, this forms a significant barrier to abandoning one's association with religion.

There are plenty of things I do, such as the Diablo game franchise or fantasy baseball, which take a few hours a week, as religion would, which would suck if I came to the realization that all that time I spent on that activity were wasted.  So as I was considering leaving the church, it occurred to me that, were I to sever all ties, I would have to write off the value of all those hours spent in services, Sunday school and confirmation as wasted.

This relatively-huge amount of time spent in church before one becomes consciously-aware forms a huge barrier to exiting the religion.  If I were to decide that fantasy baseball is stupid and worthless, the hundreds of hours I spent improving my performance in my fantasy baseball leagues would be a source of regret.  So I feel a desire to continue feeling that a hobby of fantasy baseball is worthwhile.  I imagine that for people considering leaving the church, the hundreds of hours spent in the church would fill a similar source of potential regret.

In the next post, I'll discuss how the religious views of others, such as a grandmother who would cry if she found out her grandchild weren't a Christian, would make leaving one's "natural" religion more difficult. (EDIT: actually, I'm going to go in a slightly different order, so we'll get to crying grandmas later)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Did Romney give away the game on the budget?

In an interview with Time Magazine, Mitt Romney betrayed the last 3 years of Republican/Tea Party rhetoric.  At one point (ctrl-F for "trillion" to find exactly when), he states:
Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%.  That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression.  So I’m not going to do that, of course.
So Romney says cutting spending too fast can harm economic growth.  One wonders, then, why he has criticized Obama for not cutting spending faster.  Does he think Obama should have slowed the economy by cutting spending more over the past three years?

He goes on to advocate a system of small cuts in the short term with longer term cuts.  Which is, honestly, absolutely 100% the correct strategy.  And it's also exactly what Obama has been doing over the past three years.  Spending has risen more slowly during Obama's presidency than any other recent administration, including Saint Ronald.

This is yet another example of an area where the President has been following what both sides would agree in their more sober moments is the proper strategy.  I continue to be confident that the irrational, reflexive hatred of Obama will wither away once people really start paying attention to politics again.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cutting out the Canadian middle-man

The Senate today voted down an amendment which would have allowed for the re-importation of medications from Canada, where price controls keep consumer costs down (at the expense of shareholder profits or ongoing research, depending on your source).  Sen. John McCain lamented the failure of the bill and blamed it on lobbying by pharmaceutical companies.

I prefer to think that it failed because it's a stupid policy.  Why would we set up a system where drugs are shipped to Canada, sold to a re-importer at a cheaper price because of price controls, and then shipped back here?  We could just put in price controls here and save on shipping.  There's precedent for price controls, which were put into place under noted socialist Richard Milhouse Nixon.  McCain and his supporters, including Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, need to drop the fig leaf (make that "maple leaf") of Canadian price controls and just advocate price controls here at home, if that's their goal.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Correct me if I'm wrong...

But i was spectacularly wrong in my post about Bush v Gore and Obamacare, as pointed out in the comments.

Here's an area where traditional media just can't compete with the interwebs.  I've watched a ton of cable news coverage on the subject, and read lots of newspaper and magazine articles, but these were unable to address the area of confusion I had in my thinking about the case.  But by laying my thoughts in the open, it was possible for others to point out the flaws in my reasoning and help my understanding.

I start to get kind of burned out on the blog every now and then.  One thing that keeps me motivated is the tremendous diversity of expertise and viewpoints among my meager readership.  I'm by no means an expert on everything, but between the lot of us, we're pretty good.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Romney made his record fair game

There's this growing trend in conservative circles to defend any business practice which makes money.  The latest example is found in comments today by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who accused the President of waging an attack on capitalism itself in his criticisms of Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital.  There is even some discussion of whether criticism of Romney's tenure is fair game, with the President getting disagreement even from within his own party (though those Dems criticizing him all have ties to private equity firms).

Of course discussion of Romney's business record is legit, given the centrality of his business experience to his argument for his candidacy.  If he is going to say he should be President because he was successful in business, it is worthwhile to assess how he came to be successful.

The criticism from the Obama camp is not arguing that Romney's business tactics should be illegal or looked down upon.  But it's to indicate that much of his expertise is in fact in destroying businesses, not building them as he claims in his stump speeches.

Romney rarely ever talks about his time as the governor of Massachusetts, and of course he never talks about his life in the Mormon church.  The centerpiece of his candidacy is his time at Bain.  So how could it possibly be that Obama's the bad guy for discussing every aspect of Romney's experience?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bush v Gore, Obamacare and the slippery slope

As part of Bush v Gore, the court stated in its majority opinion that the court's decision in the case could never be cited as precedent in another decision.

But think about the sort of precedent that is set by that!  If the court can decide whenever it wants that a decision cannot be used as precedent, then why would a slippery slope argument ever work in front of the Court?  In the Obamacare arguments, the conservative justices (including, sadly, Kennedy and Roberts) were focused on the things that could come after a decision in favor of Obamacare, such as mandated broccoli or burial insurance.

But those arguments are absolutely irrelevant in a post-Bush v Gore world!  The court can just say its Obamacare decision can't be cited as precedent, and they could still choose to find mandates for broccoli or burial insurance unconstitutional.

This could apply to any other slippery slope argument.  Gay marriage can't lead to incest or "man-on-dog" because any decision can declare itself unable to be cited.

Based on the oral arguments over Obamacare, the decision in the Obamacare case will come down to whether Roberts and/or Kennedy can come up with a limiting principle that would allow Obamacare but prevent broccoli.  Why can't Bush v Gore give them that principle?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why is religion off the table?

If history has shown us anything, it's that unexpected things happen all the time.  The issues that politicians debate today will not be the issues they will debate in 4 years.  So what elections about, really, but trying to get a feel for the candidate and how they think?  Given that it's impossible to know what President Obama or President Romney (shudder...) might be faced with in 4 years, we vote for the man and his worldview.

What is more fundamental to a candidate's worldview than his religion?  One's religion influences (or, well, should, at least according to most religious texts I know.  More in a future post) one's perception of absolutely everything, so why is it off limits to discuss if Romney believes in magic underwear or if Obama believes in the Immaculate Conception?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Judge concluded Texas executed an innocent man

A former Texas judge released an opinion written in 2010 when he was still on the bench which concluded Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 based on flawed scientific evidence. It is unacceptable that the death penalty is still carried out in my name and yours knowing that such a travesty is possible.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why would anyone donate to either campaign?

While Romney is much richer than Obama, both men are incredibly wealthy.  Romney has something like $230 million, while Obama got somewhere between $2.6 million and $9.9 million from his book sales.  So why would anyone of modest means contribute anything to either campaign where neither fabulously rich guy at the center of the campaigns has kicked in a dime?

There are multiple precedents for candidates contributing money to their own campaigns.  The first election I really remember, in 1992, featured H. Ross Perot spending tens of millions of his own money on half-hour infomercials.  Michael Bloomberg and Meg Whitman each spent over $100 million running for New York mayor and California governor, respectively.  Romney himself spent over $17 million on his 2008 campaign.

The Obama campaign had over 400,000 people donate an average of $50 last month.  Romney similarly gets a decent haul from small donors, though he does get more from people giving $250+.  However, these huge numbers of donors for each campaign doesn't include the candidates themselves.  Instead, hundreds of thousands of middle class and poor voters are donating money so the rich candidates don't have to.

Self-funding one's campaign can often be taken as a sign of weakness.  However, with the Obama campaign having just announced it has $115 million in cash on hand, now would be a great time for Obama to kick in a million or two.  Until he does, he ain't gettin' nothin' from me.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why you should watch sports, Part 1

Over the next few posts, I hope to convince you to give a chance to following a sport, or team, or player.  I firmly believe that, given the huge variety of sports and the tremendous volume of coverage of even the most minor sports, there is something out there to appeal to absolutely anyone, whether it's the NFL or women's curling.  If I manage to convince you and you'd like to discuss which is the right focus for you, let me know.  I will also try to give a few suggestions in the posts.

Tonight, I'm watching Dancing with the Stars with my lovely wife and my equally lovely mother-in-law.  One of the contestants is Donald Driver, a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers.  Like several previous football player contestants in past seasons, Driver is doing very well in the competition, in performance as well as audience votes.

It's not surprising that he is doing well, given the tremendous overlap in abilities needed for dancing and playing wide receiver.  Driver is just as capable of producing aesthetically pleasing performances on the football field as he is on the dance floor.  In the first second of a play, he uses his quickness and strength to get past the defender.  Then he runs a very precise route, taking a precise number of steps to run to a specific point on the field with the exact timing the quarterback expects.  He then might have to slide along the ground or leap three feet into the air to catch the ball.  Moments of balletic beauty happen all the time in other sports as well, like a basketball player weaving his way through the opposing team or a sprinter pushing the limits of human ability.

The competitive nature of sports lends an unpredictability and spontaneity to the proceedings that can't be matched in dance.  Teammates working together can demonstrate the same level of improvisation and skill found in jazz clubs.

With all the locker rooms, sweat and fat guys drinking beer traditionally associated with sports, it's easy to miss the beauty inherent in competition among world-class athletes.  Thanks to technology bringing sports into the living room, these coarser elements of sport are minimized, making it much easier for the good parts to shine through.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When talking doesn't help

Turns out I already made most of the points I wanted to discuss regarding how Obama "failed" at becoming post-partisan in a post last month.  So no sense repeating it.

On a related note to the original point, I'd like to discuss an opinion piece on Fox News today.  The author criticizes Obama for raising the issue of gay marriage when "[y]ou, me, and almost everybody else in this country want to talk about jobs, the deficit, national security".

I would ask the author to please point to one issue since the Republicans took over the House where any significant proposal by Obama, economic or otherwise, has been met with anything other than reflexive and uniform resistance.  If the other side is only going to ever say "No!  Fuck you!" in response to any proposal, even when they are things Republicans used to support, Obama's only logical response is to focus on drawing stark contrasts wherever possible.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What would a centrist look like?

There's a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction with how Washington works.  Vast swaths of the electorate decry the polarization of our politics.  Many voters hope for a pragmatic center to emerge to restore function to our government.

My question is, what would such a centrist work toward?  They'd probably be for cutting entitlement spending, but not so much that we gut programs the elderly, poor and disabled depend on.  They would acknowledge that tax revenues are historically low and selectively raise taxes.  While they would not use torture, they would support a strong national defense.  When it comes to process, they would endeavor to find common ground with their colleagues across the aisle by adopting those solutions of the other party which make sense to them.

In other words, they would be Barack Obama.  Can there be any argument that, were the Barack Obama of today dropped into the Senate in 1993, he'd be a Republican?

Tomorrow, we'll discuss the irrational expectations that voters had for Obama vis-a-vis "post-partisanship".

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ron Paul partially suspends campaign

Ron Paul announced today he will not devote any resources to earning votes where ballots haven't already been cast.  He will apparently fully devote his campaigns resources to subverting the will of those voters who have already gone to the polls.  As demonstrated in several states such as Maine, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Iowa and others, Paul and his supporters are masters of manipulating the system to help their guy, and it makes sense that he would devote his resources to that end.

To be clear, they have done nothing illegal.  If you are of the (correct) view that our political system is not a democracy, they haven't done anything unethical.

What they have done is a combination of tricks aimed at maximizing the number of Paul supporters at this summer's convention.  They recognize that while the media follows the beauty contest vote, what really matters is the delegates.  They might move to have a caucus do the beauty contest vote first and then elect delegates to the county caucus after, letting the less-informed voters go home thinking they've done their bit with their beauty contest vote.  They have volunteered to serve as delegates for other candidates, knowing that, depending on their state, they are only obligated to vote for the other candidate on the first ballot, or are allowed to abstain in Round 1 and then vote Paul, or are even allowed to vote for Paul on the first ballot anyway.  They have aggressively lobbied for the support of delegates pledged to Santorum, Gingrich and others.

All of these things are much cheaper and more effective than going on the air with millions of dollars worth of ads.  While it is unlikely that these tactics will prevent Romney from winning the nomination, it will at least make for an interesting convention.  Who's to say that Paul doesn't have dozens/hundreds of ersatz Romney delegates ready to swing the nomination to Paul if they can prevent Romney from getting to 1,144 votes on the first ballot.

So it's at least on the table that the man who won an overwhelming plurality of votes wouldn't win the nomination.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hazards of co-sleeping

On this Mother's Day, I'd like to briefly discuss this week's Time Magazine cover, which shows a woman breastfeeding her child who appears to be about 3 years old.  The related article discusses a parenting strategy called attachment parenting, which includes three main tenets: breastfeeding, sometimes into toddlerhood), lots of physical attachment to the child, such as carrying them in slings while doing your daily activities, and finally, co-sleeping, or sleeping with the child in the parents' bed.  While I'm all for breastfeeding, and there's no real medical reason not to breastfeed for a long time or carry your kid with you all the time, co-sleeping is shown to be linked to a higher rate of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  This is independent of the risk of rolling over on your baby or whatever.  A bassinet next to your bed is fine, but don't co-sleep.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Republicans losing their minds on gay marriage

 At an event in Iowa, Sen. Rand Paul (Ron's son) said of Obama's "evolution" on gay marriage: "Call me cynical, but I didn’t think his views on marriage could get any gayer."

What the fuck could he possibly mean by that?  For starters, it's politically ignorant.  Even after Obama "completed" his evolution with his statement this week, there is still a long way to the left he could go on the issue.  He is not pushing for a national law or constitutional amendment instituting gay marriage.  He is not supporting a particular state initiative for marriage equality.

Then there's how Sen. Paul chose to phrase his statement.  "could get any gayer"?  He appears to be implying that support for gay marriage is itself "gay".  I look forward to hearing Sen. Paul's clarification of his meaning.

As predicted in this space on Thursday, social conservatives, in the person of Rick Santorum, are pushing Romney to attack Obama on the gay marriage issue.  In an interview with a CNN affiliate on Friday, Santorum said regarding Obama's stance "This is a very potent weapon, if you will, for Governor Romney if he's willing to step up and take advantage of a president who is very much out of touch with the values of America."  He goes on to say "Hopefully Governor Romney will continue to stand tall for his position on this issue and understand how detrimental it would be for society for it to have this changed."

 One of the biggest problems in our political discourse is that each side argues from a completely different set of facts from the other.  This is yet another example, as Santorum attempts to portray Obama as "very much out of touch with the values of America" despite numerous polls on the matter show that in fact Obama is not very much, or even a little bit, out of touch, as more Americans share his views than don't.  Despite civil unions being legal in some states for over a decade, and gay marriage being the law in Massachusetts since 2004 and in several other countries as well, there is no data to suggest that there is any truth to Santorum's warning of how "detrimental" it would be if it were legal here.  If you live in Santorum's dream world where people are on his side and living in fear that somehow your marriage will be weakened if two girls kiss each other, perhaps asking Romney, who has never demonstrated any particular skill at speaking on social issues, to attack the President would be a good idea.  Unfortunately for him, it's not.

Even some Republicans are beginning to sound the alarm bells on the issue.  Jan van Louhizen, a Republican pollster who worked for President Bush in 2004 (when Issue 1, a gay marriage ban in Ohio, helped drive up conservative turnout in an election which would have been won by John Kerry if hadn't lost Ohio by 2%) circulated a memo this week to fellow Republicans urging them to move to the left on the issue.

How not to save the Senate

The Senate is terribly broken. While some ability for the minority party to have influence is a good thing, allowing 41 Senators to shut everything down is silly. Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering a change in the rules at the start of the new Congress next year. He raised this possibility after Republicans blocked action on what would normally be a non-controversial reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. He is apparently considering lowering the threshold needed to override a filibuster to something less than 60. While this would certainly make complete gridlock less likely than it is now, it would likely lead to worsening polarization of the Senate.

As stated by Richard Mourdock, the newly-minted Republican nominee for the Senate from Indiana, there is this constantly-growing urge to beat the other side into submission by getting a unified block of 60 Senators to pass anything they want, ignoring the minority. But as was demonstrated by the Democrats in 2009-2010, that's very hard to do. Neither party seems capable of getting to 60 without using moderates like Scott Brown or Ben Nelson to steal some seats in generally-unfriendly states.

So barring massive shifts in the electorate, neither side would ever achieve a cohesive, monolithic group of 60. This reality necessitates compromise. If neither side can realistically ever get to 60, they will have to learn to work together to get anything done. (I'll discuss in a later post why the GOP might not actually care about getting anything done).

 If the threshold is lowered, say, to 55, well then a dominant super-majority becomes a more realistic possibility. So Mourdock's strategy of complete refusal to compromise becomes more viable, which is definitely not something we should be doing. By openly discussing such a possibility like Reid did today, he enables/normalizes extreme tactics which will lead us down the wrong path.

The best solution is to have voters enforce cooperation by voting out hardcore obstructionists. There will always be the large numbers of voters on either side who will always vote for their party no matter what (honestly, I'm probably in that category). But for voters in the middle who might vote either way, they need to consider the effects of each party on the process of government. By punishing obstructionists, these voters can help make Washington work again.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Making Romney fight on Obama's turf

In 1982, performance artist/comedian Andy Kaufman performed as a wrestling "heel" in a storyline with Jerry "The King" Lawler.  In the above video, Kaufman repeatedly runs out of the ring to avoid fighting Lawler.  Eventually, Lawler offers to start the match by allowing Kaufman to start with a headlock.  Even though this might temporarily give Kaufman an advantage, it was worth it (assuming, you know, that any of this weren't staged) for Lawler to get Kaufman in the ring, where he then supposedly injured Kaufman badly enough that he was carried out on a stretcher.  Note: Starting around 6:00-6:30 would catch most of the action, though the buildup is fun.

Mitt Romney's entire candidacy is based on his ability as a businessman.  When he tries to talk about social issues, he fails miserably, particularly when he tries to go off script.  He spent most of the primary campaign trying to "jump out of the ring" like Kaufman on social issues.

While Romney is by all accounts a mediocre spokesman for conservative social issues, Obama is the closest thing the left has ever had to Ronald Reagan when it comes to oratorical gifts.  He is offering Romney a "free headlock" by raising an issue which by electoral history should be a win for Romney, particularly in swing states.  But given the gulf between the candidates in their ability to articulate his side of the argument, should this election consist to any significant degree of a discussion of gay marriage or any other social issue, Romney would be "carried out on a stretcher".

And it's not like Romney could refuse the fight.  If he doesn't attack Obama on this, conservative evangelicals, who are wary of Romney to begin with, might rebel, which would doom Romney's chances.  So he's stuck going into a fight he's ill-equipped to handle.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obama supports gay marriage

As you're probably aware, President Obama announced today his support for allowing same-sex couples to marry.  It's a move that might change the race in several ways:

-Finally there is something approximating a real basis for calling Obama a "radical".  Before, all they had was that he followed a health care plan created by the Heritage Foundation and the 1990's Republican Party, that he continued and intensified many of Bush's anti-terror programs, that he advocated returning to a top tax rate which didn't dampen economic growth during the Clinton years, and that he pursued economic policies which were not at all controversial just a few years ago.  But it's tough to call someone a radical for advocating a position which growing pluralities/majorities of Americans support.

-Proposition 8, which in California re-instated a ban on gay marriage, was overwhelmingly supported by African-Americans, a core Obama constituency.  I don't, however, think there will be very many African-Americans who would vote to designate the first African-American President a failure, which a loss for Obama would do.

-It very well may hurt him amongst the more conservative Democrats and independents.  As shown by the recent vote in North Carolina, gay marriage is not popular in several swing states.

-Just about anything that distracts from discussions of the economy is good for Obama.

-Most importantly, opposition to gay marriage is not a position which stands up to scrutiny, as discussed yesterday.  By elevating the issue as he did today, Obama will force a more detailed discussion of the matter.  What could Romney possibly say in such a discussion?  That it says gay sex is bad in Leviticus?  By provoking a real discussion of the issue, Obama will expose that there is nothing approximating a rational basis for the conservative position.  Given Romney's tenuous standing with evangelicals, it's a fight that he can't avoid.  If he fails to attack Obama for his position, he'll endanger his standing with his own base.

So while the numbers might currently suggest that Obama's "evolution" on the issue might hurt him in swing states, the current numbers don't matter.  6 months of discussion in which one side is utterly without merit will likely change those numbers.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gay marriage ban passes in North Carolina

As expected, a constitutional amendment banning legal recognition of any family besides one man/one woman. Gay marriage was already illegal by NC state law, but a majority of voters decided that wasn't quite enough. This is one of those issues that should be settled. We have had states ranging from liberal Vermont to fairly-conservative Iowa institute marriage equality, and yet, so far as I'm aware there have been no data showing that any of the doomsday predictions of the "traditional values" set are happening. So we're left with a situation where one side's position is being actively and thoroughly discredited. I wonder how NC voters will feel in the future when they will know they were on the wrong side of history.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Pundits as a corrupted vox populi

When a public discussion of the news takes place in the news media, the viewpoints are presented by one of an ever-growing political class, the pundit.  Most of the guests on Fox News, MSNBC and the like boast titles like "Republican advisor" or "Democratic strategist", meaning they've been hired at some point in their lives by some campaign somewhere.  They are selected by news channels not for the depth or quality of their analysis, but by their ability to attract viewers and advertisers.  This creates a perverse set of incentives for the punditry which damages the whole of political discourse and function.

There are 535 members of Congress, hundreds of Senate-confirmed positions in the Executive Branch and thousands of officeholders at the state and local level.  There are millions and millions of  Americans who could go online and investigate the issues themselves.  And yet, most public political discourse in modern America is done by pundits.  Were the pundits merely the most politically educated and articulate citizens, perhaps that wouldn't necessarily be a problem.  But pundits in a world of ratings and TV news face tremendous pressure to attract attention.

To stand out from a field of countless political hacks, many pundits choose to take extreme positions, because even the most articulate argument for things like moderation and fiscal efficiency are, well, boring.  So you have bomb-throwers on either side of the divide speaking for half the electorate, even though that electorate would itself be much more conciliatory since they don't have the motivation to be extreme.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cap and trade

We also need to discuss cap and trade for carbon emissions and other things. There are lots of things people do which cause loss to others, and a cap and trade system is one way to do it. It used to be Republican dogma; now it's socialism, or whatever.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Consumption taxes

Another post I'm working on by the campfire is a look at consumption taxes, the Fair Tax and maybe some other alternative tax structures. I'm actually kinda for 'em.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Systemic failures

At Punderson (i think) State Park near Chardon staring at a campfire working on a post for next week on failures of systems which lead to evil acts when no one (er, few) involved has evil intentions. Examples to be discussed include the punditocracy and religion (again, mostly made up of good people).

Thursday, May 3, 2012


First off, sorry about the shitty posts the last couple weeks.  To be honest, not much is really happening of any consequence, and it's tough to find something I'm fired up enough about to work on a good post.

In light of this fact, I'm considering expanding the scope of the blog rather significantly.  While the main focus and most of the posts will continue to be political, I might talk about something else for a day.  Perhaps I'll label the posts differently or something.  If I'm rambling on about topics that no one gives a shit about, please let me know.

Finally, I'm going to be camping this weekend, so it's possible that I won't have cell phone signal sufficient to post.  If that's the case, I'll make up for missed posts when I get back.  It might break the "posting every day" pledge, in which case you can contact me for a full refund.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Drudge and Politico smear Obama

Politico, which is usually good, and Drudge, who consistently sucks, both made a big deal out of Obama "admitting" to a biographer that a person mentioned in his first book, "Dreams From My Father", was actually a composite character, a common literary device in which several characters are combined into one. The original version of the Politico story claimed Obama was wrong to use such a device without warning his readers, since this was a work of non-fiction. But they never. Others to read the introduction to the book, which clearly stated some characters were composites. Politico has since corrected the story, but Drudge is still claiming "Obama admits fabricating girlfriend in memoir", as if his use of a literary device is at all newsworthy. Don't believe what you read.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Anti-gay conservatives run spokesman out of Romney campaign

 Two weeks ago, the Romney campaign hired Richard Grenell to be a foreign policy spokesman/advisor.  Today, he resigned, citing pressure from anti-gay conservatives who could not countenance a homosexual in a position of any prominence in the Republican Party.

It would be one thing if he were an advisor on social policy, or marriage policy, or whatever.  But he was hired for a completely unrelated job, and still he was run out of the campaign.

While the conservative voices that attacked him were not in the campaign and do not represent most conservatives, the campaign didn't do much to speak out in support of Grenell.