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February 16, 2013

brief thoughts on entitlement

So, by my reckoning, it is only a matter of time before someone from the Cato Institute will be quoted in some mainstream news article decrying a transportation bill, laden with cash to improve crumbling infrastructure, as an entitlement, and further that the president is only trying to cater to the people that voted for him

This is a little bit apropos of nothing.  OK well, not nothing.  I think it was a quote in a NYT story about the president's proposal to provide for universal pre-kindergarten, which contained an equivalent quote from a Cato pencilneck, which left me sputtering with rage.  The dude does not have a problem with entitlements — corporate tax and research subsidies I'm sure are fine with him, not to mention the fact that he is most likely actually entitled.  He has a problem with the government doing anything, because, to him, every function of the government is a land-grab from private business.  And the point of private business, of course, is to extract capital from the economy and concentrate it in the ownership class.

Dude would rather perpetuate an entire underclass than cede an ideological inch.  It is behavior that does not recommend him well as a human being.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:56 PM

February 15, 2013

cosmic phenomena

If there is a better way to start the day than learning of a meteor explosive, I don't know what it is.  That means not only Neil deGrasse Tyson getting the obligatory spot on the NPR local news cut-in (reminding us that it's only a meteorite if is hits the ground), but also this amazing video of various stoic Russians seeming not at all disturbed by a meteor streaking across the sky and then exploding.

Any day that the word "cosmic" is used (unironically) in the top headlines is a good day.

And if that is not enough Natural but Weird for you, remember that today, at 2:24 PM EST, an object, Asteroid 2012 DA14, will buzz the Earth.  And when I say buzz, this sucker will not only pass inside the lunar orbit, but will also pass inside the distance at which our geosynchronous satellites circle.  It's not going to hit us (this time), but that's close, dude.

Look, commuting sucks, as does paying those bills, and there may be no reward at the end of the day other than watching a "Friday Night Lights" rerun, but at least you live in a world, or rather on a world, in which miraculous/scary things still happen.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:24 AM

February 14, 2013

heidi moore, haters and the minimum wage

I'm again recommending an article by Heidi Moore, as this one is unusually timely and forceful — she addresses the business leader backlash against the president's call for an increase in the minimum wage:
But there is an intellectual dishonesty here too, as well as a craven contribution to the country's economic woes. Corporate leaders shouldn't have to be told by the government to pay their workers a living wage. They know that consumers will drive the recovery, but consumption by the rich doesn't do it. You need the middle and lower classes.

This came to my attention as Moore was swarmed by smug bastards on her Twitter feed, arguing against the points of Moore's piece in less than reasonable ways. In the course of her deft defense of herself, Moore referenced some studies and explainers that reinforce her points, and I'd advise everyone that disagrees with her/me to give 'em a look!  Science!

But on the most basic, intuitive level, think of it this way.  Inflation is a fact of life in our economic system.  It is measured by the government, and there are only a few years in the past hundred (the Depression, and I think 1971 though I could be wrong?) in which we experienced deflation.  A dollar bill in terms of real value decreases a little bit every year.  This is why if you have a job that could be considered a career, you get a raise every year.

So why then is the minimum wage the only thing in the world that is not pegged to inflation?

Sorry, but the people opposed to an increase in the minimum wage are just plain opposed to the minimum wage.  (And make poor arguments.)

Posted by mrbrent at 12:53 PM

February 13, 2013

marco rubio, and (totally unrelated) mezcal

I did not get to watch the SOTU speech last night, as I was attending a very pleasant mezcal tasting.

I guess I kind of knew what the president would say, but what I was really looking forward to was the official response by Republican savior-designee Marco Rubio.  Nothing specifically against Sen. Rubio, as he doesn't really seem any dumber than the rest of him, but I am clearly fascinated by the speed and fervency of the anointment of the senator as the Great (something) Hope, as it is the most cynical and desperate groupthink out of the GOP I have ever seen.  Not to make too big a point of it, but I predict that many national Republican candidates will call each other "amigo" and conspicuously eat a lot of tacos, etc.

Reading up on the response, I see that while he certainly didn't Bobby Jindal himself (water or no water), he still did manage to say a number of demonstrably untrue things with a straight face.  Leadership!

But back to the tasting, which was not just fun and games (and mezcal) — here is a nugget of knowledge I acquired about the history of the Mexican spirit.  A couple of years ago, a company partially-owned by Coca Cola opened an enormous facility in Oaxaca, which the capacity to produce 45,000 liters of mezcal daily.  That's a lot, for mezcal, and the point of it was to introduce and slowly market a new mezcal, called Zignum, that would dominate the market and eventually be the biggest spirit in the world (or something).  The result?

First, a glut in mezcal.  They flooded the market in Mexico, after which demand plummeted.  But the one thing they didn't flood was Oaxaca, whose water table was depleted to the point of drought.

This is according to one of the hosts, of course, but still.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

February 12, 2013

christopher dorner

I'm a little bit swamped as usual, but I do have to say that the naked bloodlust in the appetite for the Christoper Dorner footage from Big Bear, CA is Exhibit Checkmate that Americans are just bad people, and God it disgusts me.

I swear to God when I was a kid a news director would never, never throw that shit on live TV (or radio) if there was a chance anyone (including perp) would get shot.  And yeah, I'm a prude, but aside from prudes like me, in the early afternoon there are sorts of viewers that are under the age of consent.  Actually, screw that.  If you're the sort that wants to watch a shootout on live TV, then I'm sure there's a convenient way to buy yourself a mirror online, without having to leave the flickering comfort of your rec room.

Time better spent: reading always awesome Mike Davis' thoughts on the greater topic at hand.  No bullets hitting bodies in that, sorry, but I'm still recommending it.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:42 PM

February 11, 2013

gop: boogeyman harder

File this passage, from a NYT piece on Democrat Montana Millennials (really!), under Unintentional Truth Telling:
So as Republican leaders focus on trying to attract more Hispanics and women, [Kristen Soltis Anderson, who studies young voters for the Winston Group, which advises House Republicans,] is urging them to develop a message that will appeal to the under-30 crowd by emphasizing nongovernmental alternatives to solving problems, as opposed to just limiting government.

"When you ask young voters what caused the recession, this whole idea that there wasn't enough regulation, or it was George W. Bush's fault, is present," she said. "When conservatives make the argument, 'Hey, the government needs to get out of the way and let you make decisions for yourself,' a lot of young people don't have this idea of the government as a boogeyman. So it makes the conservative message less resonant."

The Republican Party is having trouble attracting young voters who have reasonably accurate recollections of the fiscal crisis, and for whom the government is not a boogeyman.

Time was that if you were some sort of party functionary or operative, you'd try not to admit to open demagoguery in front of a reporter.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:43 AM

February 10, 2013

the economy is nothing like your household

Chances are, you've had a stranger or a dinner party, or an uncle on Facebook, regale you with their concerns with the national debt: "Why, if a family is spending more than they make, what do," they ask.  "Spend more money?"  They don't think so!

Is the basic illustration of the debt scolds, as Paul Krugman calls them, to call to the listeners mind their own circumstance, and then project that situation to the national economy.

It is convincing, but it is also deliberately inaccurate.

To begin, to compare the economy with the finances of a household is poppycock, horsefeathers.  With a family, they have all the money coming in, presumably from Mom's an Dad's jobs, and then all the expenses, of which there are a lot.  And of course it is important for the household to balance the checkbook, so that the money does not run out.

The economy is a totally different beast, an is not analogous in any way.  It is not a simple question of money in/money out, as a budget deficit/surplus is not the single determinant of economic health.  The most common benchmark used is the gross domestic product, which has bupkiss to do with budget deficits.

Also, the national economy is not quite so cut and dried as the household, because it's basically a fantastically complex system in which the "income" and the "expenses" are not necessarily external factors.  To reverse engineer, the "income" is not a salary or a wage, but actually a portion of the income of mom and dad, levied once a year, and the "expenses" are not only the rent and the doctor bills, but in some cases the wages and salary of mom and dad themselves.

It's not just apples and oranges.  It's apples and a Swiss watch that has little simulacrums of apples in the gearwork.

This is above and beyond the Krugman rallying cry that it's an unfair comparison because the U.S. government can borrow money in its own currency.  That's another little cheat of the old saw.  But the old saw is intrinsically deceitful.

There's no simple way to rebut this to the uncle, or to that friend of a friend at dinner, but, "Your premise is faulty," would be a good start.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:47 PM