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August 13, 2010

tax cuts/hikes

Well-known point of fact: extending the Bush tax cuts, scheduled to expire this year, will result in an astonishing amount of revenue for the federal government, at exactly the time that everyone is convinced that the national deficit is something that will sneak up on you and kill you in your sleep, like the Great Pumpkin.  Which is why when the Republican portion of the Congress makes large amounts of hay concerning allowing only the tax cuts targeted at the already wealthy to expire and how it's a TAX HIKE and FISCALLY IRRESPONSIBLE, every single person following news in America scratches their head, really scratches it, because the hypocrisy, the two-headed-ness, the crass mutability of principle, is as obvious as a giant flying saucer hovering over Los Angeles.  I hesitate to use the phrase "Big Lie" because of its connotations, but it does seem that the more egregious the flabbergastery, the easier that it is digested by the GOP base and rationalized by talking heads.

So, for the purpose of illustration, check this graph produced by the Washington Post that compares the tax plans of each party.  The graph is stated as "tax cut per taxpayer", so, as greed is not one of your strong suits, I recommend imagining that the circles instead stand for "lost federal revenue".

[H/t Edroso.]

Posted by mrbrent at 9:54 AM

August 12, 2010

more flimflam sauce, please

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-The Future) got the second installment of his hagiography published this morning in the NYT — a Matt Bai thinker proposing that Ryan and the president could have similar relationship as President Clinton did with Speaker Gingrich (who at the time was only on his second wife, I believe?) in the event of the fulfillment of the narrative of Republican Ascendancy.  It is, again, a warm and fuzzy picture painted of Ryan, as a rising star who just wants to get things done, whose economic ideas are serious.  Plus Rep. Ryan manages not to be quoted at length, so he avoids the narcotizing effect that comes therewith.

Instead of this dribbling coverage of our next first President for Life, I suggest that half of the White House Press Corps be immediately seconded to Wisconsin, where they may hang on Rep. Ryan's every well-chiseled gesture and sample all kinds of delicious American cheese.

Of course, the article did mention to refer to "flimflam sauce", so the news is not all bad.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:31 AM

good morning 8.12.10

A brief digression.  I crossed Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway on the way to the train this morning.  The Manhattan-bound lanes resemble greatly a late-70s Burt Reynolds film, like "Hooper" but with cars.  Like hitting 70 miles an hour on a stop-light thoroughfare, like swerving lanes screeching, like a bar fight with Terry Bradshaw.  Four blocks to go, I had a natural progression, something like why do people drive poorly?/civic higher consciousness and I landed on this:

So say it does happen to pass that a Galt's Gulch pops up, a place where all the heroically talented Objectivists decamp to en masse (so that we who remain will no longer have the benefit of their heroic talent) and then hide out in some kind of Utopia where the strong need not worry about the weak because everyone would be too busy being fully-happily productive and the iconography looks vaguely Russian but not in a Communist way at all.

So in this place, this paradise of the self-interested, what will then govern the traffic?

Signals and signs would be an insult to the individual rights of each and every Objectivist motorist.  What then?  Would rational self-interest keep automobiles from crashing into each other and mowing down pedestrians?

Or would Objectivist EMTs, insurance agents, mechanics and lawyers not be the most gainfully employed of the Gulchers?

To be fair I've been fascinated with traffic even since I was old enough to realize I was in a car.  And Objectivists are dingbats, so there's that.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:48 AM

August 11, 2010

radioactivity in the news

The heat/wildfire crisis in Russia just got more crisis-y:
As if things in Russia were not looking sufficiently apocalyptic already, with 100-degree temperatures and noxious fumes rolling in from burning peat bogs and forests, there is growing alarm here that fires in regions coated with fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 24 years ago could now be emitting plumes of radioactive smoke.

I'm not saying that the entire world faces a newly-minted threat of radioactive forest fires — not the case.  I don't have any figures about what percentage of the planet's landscape is irradiated, but I guess it's negligible, which is small comfort if you live downwind of Chernobyl.

But those things that are radioactive plus also burning did not get radioactive by themselves.

See also: be careful going to a pig roast in Germany.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:50 AM

yes that thing that isn't

NYT reports on the primary results in Colorado for the Senate race, with the establishment Democrat, Michael Bennett, winning, and the Tea Party Republican, Ken Buck, upending the party-favored endorsed candidate.  Naturally, after news like this, it's time for a paragraph of analysis:
The two victories suggested that the anticipated wrath of the American voter might not be quite ready to sweep away all before its path — but the tide is still strong.

It could mean that, I guess.  But, looking at the results as they stand, you could say that Democrats have managed to fend off the populist contenders that the Republicans have fallen victim to.  In fact, during this primary season, the damage done by the Tea Party candidates has been entirely to the GOP — Tea Party candidate tend not to run on the Democratic line because they can't stand the stench of socialism.  So really, and this is a narrative inconvenient to the one currently promulgated, the pitchforks and torches aren't so much stampeding DC as they are storming the Republican Party.

On the other hand, it could just mean, "Win some, lose some," which is of equivalent depth of the NYT-analysis.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:18 AM

August 10, 2010

digg patriots

This bit of deep investigation that was reported last week did not get its fair share of attention.  To summarize, a group of politically conservative members of Digg conspired to game the system by which Digg would rate stories, squelching "liberal" stories.

Quelle surprise, right?  But it is a big juicy gooey story, as the author, Username Oleoleolsen, "went undercover" and basically watched the group of conservatives, self-named Digg Patriots, collude to push stories down rankings, ban liberal users and sidestep bannings on the occasions when the gaming was sniffed out by Digg.  It is an extensive read, and loaded with raw data.

All of these automated reputation-management systems come with backdoors, whether by technological trickery or by concerted mass effort (or "conspiracy", for short), so it's inevitable that an interest group would start poking for methods to rig results, in the same way that fifteen seconds after the first wallet was created a third party realized that if you steal the wallet, you get to keep what's inside it.

No laws are being broken, but in being caught red-handed the question should be asked, "Now why would you guys go and do such a thing?"  Digg is not exactly a mainstream media outlet, but I'm sure that some portion of the digital citizenry use it to direct them to issues of the day, and it has been subjected to political-based censorship.  This story should have more legs.

[And of course right as I'm about to hit post, I see that The Awl has run a story on it, written by the always-good Maria Bustillos.  Let's read it together.]

Posted by mrbrent at 10:56 AM


By my reckoning, this would be the 3,000th post on this here website, plus or minus.  I try not to go in for the LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MYSELF but three thousand is an awful big number, and I guess it makes up for all the things I've started and never finished.  That must be what keeps me motivated: a project with no conceivable end is one that will not incapacitate me with anxiety over the ending.

Well, and the stupid people.  Ain't never gonna get tired of writing about stupid people.

Also: 3,000 posts is a lot to read.  You guys must be exhausted.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:18 AM

August 9, 2010

ellis on television, but not literally

This is a remainder from last week, but another reminder that even if you are not into funny books, Warren Ellis is worth reading, as he files a column explaining his complicated relationship with the television medium:
Common culture is going away because the internet is so big and so full of shiny things pulling at our attention that it’s now extremely difficult to get everyone’s eyes on the same thing at anything like the same time.  We exist in a state of cultural fracture, and the cracks are slowly but surely reaching through everything.  It became TV’s turn to start coming apart a while back.

One of the puzzling things about "Mad Med" is the totality with which is subsumes entire neighborhoods of the Internet.  It's a very dislocating feeling, to feel that every single last one of the smart kids is into a show that you tried to watch once or twice and found it to be a dry and cynical bit of misplaced nostalgia.  But there it is, straddling the conversation like a giant statue commemorating the time when television had an actual gravity well from which viewers could not escape.

This is of course an anomaly, but I think it supports what Ellis is saying, the weirdness of having a cultural tsunami come from the television and not somewhere else.  Though do note that this phenomena comes from not the Big Three, or even the other national, terrestrial networks.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:25 PM

ross douthat is dumb

So basically Ross Douthat agrees that all the arguments against gay marriage put forth in Perry v. Schwarzenegger are indefensible constitutionally and then puts forth an even more indefensible argument:
But if we just accept this shift [against discrimination against gays], we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate.  That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve.  And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

So the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy is worth denying an entire class of Americans due process and equal protection under the law?  Most three year-olds can come up with more compelling arguments about why they should have a cookie.

Part of me wants to be outraged that Douthat gets paid to write that, and paid to write at all.  The other part of me hopes that the anti-gay marriage advocates hire Douthat to work on the appeal to Perry v Schwarzenegger.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:31 AM

August 8, 2010

mosque concern trolls

The most interesting aspect of the legions of concerned Americans who will not tolerate a mosque on their Ground Zero or next to their Wal-Mart or anywhere else is that they posit an America that is antithetical to the America they believe in.  Their concern, as perfected after ten years of right wing paranoia, is now not just that any mosque will act as a terrorist factory, spitting out newly minted suicide airline pilots, but more importantly that each mosque will be its own little sleeper cell, as Islam is nothing but a time bomb set to eventually take over the nation it occupies.

Sadly, there is precedent — see Turkey, for example, or even the concerted nervousness of Egypt's government.  But let's just grant it, even though I don't believe to be applicable here myself, for the sake of illuminating the logical flaw.

So, yes, invasion from within, taking over our school boards and town councils, imposing a strictly religion-based interpretation of the law, etc.  (Actually, sounds familiar.)  But, at the same time, the people so scared of this eventuality are also what you would call "U-S-A"ers, believing of the moral and practical superiority of the United States, and, more importantly, in the inevitability of success of the US, of invulnerability.  And there's precedent for this too (although I don't believe it myself).  The Constitution is a pretty advanced political document, setting forth a whole lot of principles that are analogous with what you would consider "good", and providing for a mechanism for correction.

So, my point is that if you simultaneously believe in a certain ubiquity in the overwhelming good and right and survivability of the United States, and you also believe that there is such a thing that could actually threaten the United States from within, then you are either exaggerating one or both of your arguments, or you are insane.

Probably a bit of both going on in this case.  Insane: Glenn Beck has a highly rated Father Coughlin Weepy Serious Hour on the television.  Case closed.  Exaggerated: well, I don't think that these people believe in some inherent flaw in the United States (unless its politically expedient, of course).  What I do think is that the modern loud elements of the right have learned that prejudices and plain dislike can no longer be legislated on pure dislike, back in the old days.  In order to successfully lobby against a class that makes the Loud Right icked out — the Muslims, the gays, the Undocumented Workers — the lobbyists can not just assert a "duh" winking condemnation and wait for slaps on the back.  Now, dislike needs to be framed as a threat, and the louder the yelling, the greater the threat must be.

This was the center of the argument of the defense in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which argument got put through the wood-chipper.  And the opponents to the mosques are generally your garden variety racists and xenophobes.  But they've learned that nobody likes racists and xenophobes anymore, not like the old days, and so they need to hide it behind defense of something.  In this case (like most), they are claiming to defend the very fabric of our society.

Which is of course ridiculous, as is belied by their America-Only Exceptionalist underpinnings.  And of course the fact that these concerned patriots are malingering in a way does not mean that they will be ceasing operations anytime soon.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:49 AM