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October 11, 2013

that casino referendum

As you may or may not have heard, New York State has a referendum on the ballot over whether to authorize a number casinos in the state.  We have a few casinos already in the state, but mostly these sad little affairs on Native American land, or a score of slot machines shoved into a sad racetrack.  But the governor wants more.

This is the language of the referendum:

The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes through revenues generated. Shall the amendment be approved?

As you may have guessed, some parties have objected to the wording of that, filing suit against the Board of Elections in the State Supreme Court.

The Board of Elections, or should I say Cuomo's Board of Elections, argues that all they're doing is describing the "legislative purpose," which is a bit of a stretch, as the legislative purpose is to authorize seven casinos, period.  What is done with the revenue that these (privately held) casinos is beside the point.

I disagree.  You read that fast enough, you don't even register the word casino as you skip right to job growth and lower taxes.  For example, would it be fair to word it like this?

The proposed amendment to section 9 of article 1 of the Constitution would allow the Legislature to authorize up to seven casinos in New York State for the legislated purposes of enriching a couple casino owners, tarting up once-proud cities and creating a whole new special underclass of gambling addicts

That wouldn't be fair would it?  No.

And yes, if you are in New York State, I recommend voting NO on the referendum.  Financing the state on lotteries and casinos may be convenient, but it puts the burden on the backs of the poor and generally makes the state a shittier place to live.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:01 AM

October 10, 2013

gop death cult

So the Gang of 40 or the Suicide Caucus or whatever you call them and snicker?  I'm starting to lose a bit of sleep over them.

OK, so they are self-described as "small government."  In fact, there are certain arms of government that they don't think need to be reduced, but disappeared — Departments of Education, Commerce, Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, etc.  In fact, this is the urge behind some of these caucus members (take Ted Yoho, for example) when they talk about how a default on the debt ceiling would be a good thing.  They propose that revenue be used only to service debt, and then all those government functions they already loathe get defunded, just like they want.

So what you have is an ideological minority (and one that hijacked the party) that fundamentally believes not in an action, but an inaction.  They are there to blow shit up, to dismantle the government and its functions.

They are not a Suicide Caucus.  They are a Death Cult.  They are there to kill the government.  Shutdown?  Awesome.  Global financial crisis?  Well, it'll prevent the government from paying for useless programs, but neato.  There is nothing but nihilism in their hearts and meaningless analogies in their heads.  And I don't know how you negotiate with them, because they don't want anything but the destruction of everything, which they can get just as easily by not negotiating.

I guess I'm realizing that this is not a polite disagreement over how to administer the government, but rather more like being invaded by cannibals.  And until they self-marginalize themselves, we'll be refighting the New Deal endlessly.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM

October 9, 2013

ted cruz debate champion of the universe

Lost in the flash and the sizzle of yesterday's dueling press conferences concerning the Shutdown (and impending default), and in between the absolutely horrifying stories of the Default Deniers, was a small little nugget of news so absurd it had to put a smile on your face.  I found it buried in the middle of this wrap-up:
Senator Ted Cruz, the first-year Texas Republican credited by many with instigating his party's hard-line budget stance against the health care law, asked Mr. Reid to engage in a one-on-one debate. Mr. Reid rebuffed him.

Hey, in the middle of this shitstorm that Cruz is the (public) author of, he wants to trick the Senate Majority Leader into having a debate, which no one remembers at all from the endless bios of Cruz is something he's really good at!

As of course you know, that request for Reid to put up his dukes is screamingly against Senate protocol, but I doubt there was no one more aggrieved that Mitch McConnell, who had to sit there and watch while Cruz tried to eat McConnell's lunch (again).  I say, sure, let's have a debate: Are you a bullying asshole, or just an asshole?

Ah, it's good to laugh, as this thing careens towards the cliff.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:04 AM

October 8, 2013

the future generations canard

A brief pause from liveblogging the Shutdown (is there a more colorful term we've agreed on yet?) for a point/counterpoint on everyone's favorite, macroeconomics.  And we're going to avoid some of the informed commentary out there and rely on an initial point being made by an actual economist, Stephen D. King, chief economist for HSBC.  In his op-ed for the NYT, he argues that not only are happy days not here again, but we are expecting ever diminishing days of happiness, forever:
The decades before the French Revolution saw an extraordinary increase in living standards (alongside a huge increase in government debt). But in the late 1780s, bad weather led to failed harvests and much higher food prices. Rising expectations could no longer be met. We all know what happened next.

When the money runs out, a rising state, which Smith described as "cheerful," gives way to a declining, "melancholy" one: promises can no longer be met, mistrust spreads and markets malfunction. Today, that's particularly true for societies where income inequality is high and where the current generation has, in effect, borrowed from future ones.

King posits that the expansions of the 20th Century were one-time occurrences, and since we are predicated on perpetual expansion, we are doomed.  Hey, maybe it makes sense?

But it does include a nod to that old canard about borrowing money from future generations, so for counter-point we go to Peter Dorman, who begs to differ:

So where is "borrowing from the future"? Well, all government is borrowing from some people to pay other people, and paying back these debts, should it ever happen, simply reverses that flow. Either way, money is making its way from one group to another at the same point in time. Note that interest on the debt has nothing to do with present vs future either: the current generation, which incurs the debt, begins paying interest immediately in exactly the same way their distant descendants will.

By yanking these quotes I'm arguably simplifying the issue (in fact, by mentioning it at all I'm probably simplifying), but it really goes back to the "running the government like a household."  The government isn't run in any way like a household.  No government is.  A government is massively more complex, not to mention that concepts like "salary" and "bills" just makes no sense in the context of a government.

Not to say that either writer is right or wrong.  King's contention that wealth is disappearing is one worth contemplating.  But the point being that if some element of macroeconomics is simplified to the point that Joe Sixpack is able to understand it, there's some amount of distortion that occurs in that simplification.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:24 AM

October 7, 2013

krugman just called you dumb

Here's the thing I learned this morning: citing the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the most elegant way ever to call someone dumb to their face without them knowing it.  (The Dunning-Kruger effect is an observed cognitive bias in which the subject's stunning incompetence prevents the subject from discerning and/or correcting such incompetence, remember?)

The only sad thing is that you can only bust out the Dunning-Kruger effect every once in a while, or it will lose its efficacy.  Sort of like the Ultimate Nullifier in Marvel Comics?  Originally it was an unimaginably important [plot contrivance] for use only in the event of things like Galactus eating the planet, but eventually characters were using it to find lost keys and zapping their Hot Pockets.  Accuse people (like the Suicide Caucus, naturally) too much of exhibiting the Dunning-Kruger effect and then eventually it will become tired and boring.  Like saying, "Amazeballs!"

So is the government still shut down?  Looks like so.  Enjoy your week!

Posted by mrbrent at 10:27 AM

October 6, 2013

the turning tide?

I don't know if this is premature triumphalism (and the Sunday morning news shows are not yet done), but the sense that I'm getting with regard to the Shutdown is that the narrative (i.e., the agreed consensus of the mainstream news outlets and their talking heads) has moved from, "Will the GOP be able to pin this on the Dems?" to, "Does the GOP have any idea at all what they are doing?"

This is all strategery talk and matters not a whit to either furloughed federal employees or wild-eyed Obamacare haters, but the Republicans (and insert your Sadness of John Boehner joke here) have not been able to get out from under the idea that they are irresponsible lunatics who don't even know what they want (other than the utter nullification of the past two presidential elections).  And I think this is largely an organic consensus inasmuch as Democrats/progressives have not really had to do all that much in the way of convincing.

Of course, there's an awful lot of kicking while the GOP is down, and this may be the best example of it, the kicker of a Dave Weigel report:

"Dealing with terrorists has taught us some things," said Washington Rep. Jim McDermott after voting no on one of Thursday's GOP bills. "You can't deal with 'em. This mess was created by the Republicans for one purpose, and they lost. People in my district are calling in for Obamacare--affordable health care--in large numbers. These guys have lost, and they can't figure out how to admit it." Why would House Democrats give away what the Supreme Court and the 2012 electorate didn't? "You can't say, OK, you get half of Obamacare--this isn't a Solomonic decision," McDermott said. "So we sit here until they figure out they fuckin' lost."

Words to live by.  But we'll see how things shake out once everyone's done talking to George Stephanopoulos.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:05 AM