Friday, July 31, 2015

Response to Forced Clarity

(See: Just Above Sunset: Forced Clarity)

Before he left his Comedy Central show, Stephen Colbert's schtick was to lampoon conservative Republicans, but from the "inside", by pretending to be one of them, and one who is just clueless enough to actually say what he thinks -- unlike his fellow right-wingers, most of whom are just smart enough to keep their real thoughts to themselves. But for the time being, Colbert's inside-job skewering of Republicans isn't so missed, now that the void is being filled by Donald Trump.

Yet, while Colbert's act occasionally helped illuminate some issue -- remember his walking us through the legal process of creating a Super Pac by actually doing it on his show? -- I don't see Trump's immigration blithering as being all that helpful, the difference probably being due to the fact that Colbert never did anything without scripting it all out first. Trump is more like doing improv. 

And so, has Trump now really "forced this issue right out in the open", as Ed Kilgore suggests? I don't see it.

In American politics, just because a question obviously needs to be addressed doesn't mean it's going to happen, even if brought up in a nationally televised presidential debate with all the world watching. And to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, nobody ever lost money betting that everyone in Washington will do absolutely nothing on immigration.

But putting aside the actual cost of deporting 11.5-million undocumented residents, one of the other questions that will probably go ignored if Republicans ever get around to having this conversation is what this would do to our economy:
Many undocumented immigrants pay taxes ... Most importantly, undocumented immigrants contribute to the economy. Labor economists agree that there are net gains to having a larger labor supply. ... In 2012, researchers at the Cato Institute estimated that a mass deportations policy would reduce economic growth by around $250 billion per year.
So assuming an economy of $17.8-trillion, a $250-billion movement should represent about 1.4%, which means that, had we deported all these people last year, our most recent annualized growth rate of 2.3% (2nd quarter this year) would actually be only 0.9% -- that is, growth of under 1%.

And many of the deported will leave behind jobs which will not be filled by American citizens, at least at those same low wages, if at all. This means not only are we paying billions to deport guest workers we need here, they'll be taking their spending money with them and spending it elsewhere, and it will now cost us more money to stay in a hotel room or buy a head of lettuce, assuming the farmers can even find someone to pick it at all.

But will Republicans care? Not really. Nobody will blame them for this stuff, since most people won't see any "cause-and-effect" in play here. After all, most of their constituency just doesn't believe in all that sciency stuff anyway.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Response to The Road Taken

(See: Just Above Sunset: The Road Taken)

If you're looking for some sort of proof that Donald Trump never backed away from a stupid mistake in his life, just ask yourself this one question:

How else would you explain that hair?

I mean, the fact that his haircut looks fake has been a national joke long enough for him to have changed his hairstyle by now, but he's nothing if not a man who stands behind his mistakes. And now Mike Huckabee wants to borrow some of Donald's magic?

As tempting as it is to be able to bring someone's argument to a full-stop with the words, "Oh, yeah? Well so did Adolph Hitler!" -- sort of like invoking the nuclear version of "So's your mother!", or "That's what SHE said!"

The reason Hitler and the Holocaust are "off limits" in argument is in respect to Jews themselves. That is, by turning to that line of discussion, you're saying that there are other things in the history of the world comparable to the Nazis doing what they did to Jews in World War II. The Anti-Defamation League, reflecting the views of many of their fellow Jews on this, would prefer you show a little respect by not going there. Yes, not going there makes it a little harder to argue against this stuff ever happening again, but rules of engagement are rules, nonetheless, and most smart people know this.

Mike Huckabee either doesn't know this about this unwritten rule, or doesn't care -- and when someone points it out to him, he still doesn't get it:
“Three times I’ve been to Auschwitz. When I talked about the oven doors, I have stood at that oven door, I know what exactly it looks like,” Huckabee continued. ”I will not apologize, and I will not recant..."
Yes, yes, we know, you've paid your dues, but although you've stood at that door and you know what it looks like, you're being asked by folks who have more of a personal stake in Auschwitz than you do, to tone it down.

Are you aiming your sermon at American Jews, who apparently favor the Iran deal at a 20% higher rate than the rest of us? Or are you really preaching to your own choir of evangelicals, in which case you think you can totally ignore the ADL?

Still not getting it is a bad move when you're running for president. Although Huckabee probably has followers who are equally clueless and careless and who stand by their guns, my guess is there are even more potential voters who see this as dancing with two left feet. You want your president to be nimble.

Even worse, I'd think most voters won't like that Huckabee is trying to follow Trump's seemingly-successful lead on not backing off from saying something stupid. Yeah, it seems to work for Trump, but eventually he won't be getting away with this either, and everything will come tumbling down around him, with him still not apologizing for all the chaos he caused, saying he'll just go back to building tall buildings with his name on them, and making billions and marveling at the fact that he's having sex with all the world's hottest babes -- including, for all I know, his own daughter. Hey, the Donald doesn't follow the rules, which helps explain why he'll never be an American president.

Seriously, are we in the "election year" yet?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Response to Changing Lanes

(See: Just Above Sunset: Changing Lanes)

Almost twenty years ago, we were vacationing in the Carolinas when, while staying at a motel, my wife (as is her silly wont at hotels) made the bed in the morning, and in the process of pushing the bedspread under the pillows while our toddler was sitting on it, bent her middle finger backward, almost double.

After visiting a local clinic, where a doctor wrapped her finger in a brace and instructed her to keep it elevated, making it look in the car like she was making a rude gesture to passersby, we took off home on the backroads, through small towns that we quickly learned were all speed traps.

(You see where this is going yet?)

So sure enough, in spite of my duly slowing down for all of them, one roadside cop car fired up his lights as we passed and pulled us over. After sitting behind us for a few minutes, presumably running our plates and calling for backup, he strolled up to my window and peeked in, and starting in to laughing. He called the backup cop up to see, and he started laughing, too. They both were then in great humor when we explained why her hand was like that. It probably helped that our son was sleeping peacefully through the whole thing in his car seat in back. They let us go with a warning to be careful with our speed, since some of those towns up ahead, he delicately explained, were "speed traps!"

So why did he pull us over? Not for speeding, that's for sure. And not "Driving-While-Black", since if he could see well enough to notice my wife's finger, he could see well enough to notice we weren't. No, had she not had a note from her doctor, it would have been a clear, open-and-shut case of “contempt of cop” -- which, by the way, is not really against any law. Still, I'm guessing the injury probably wouldn't have mattered if we'd mouthed off and protested being pulled over. And what if we'd been pleasant, but also had been black? Don't know. I've never been there, so I can't say, but yes, I do suspect things would have been harder for us had we not been white.

I heard this Sandra Bland issue first discussed on the July 23rd “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore", in the segment with his panel of guests.

Aside from them all treating this event as unquestionably racial (which I couldn't do, as I could see me, a white dude, talking that way and me being treated just the same), the odd thing I was thinking during the back-and-forth is that nobody seemed to mention that famous speech black parents always tell their kids -- that if you're pulled over by a cop, be respectful, keep both hands where he can see them, do what he tells you to do, and for god's sake, don't give him an excuse to escalate on you. (In fact, I'm white, and I think I had a similar talk with both my kids as they approached driving age.)

In any event, it sounded to me from hearing that tape that Sandra Bland never got that talk. And before you go all "blaming-the-victim" on me, I'm not saying the cop was right, because I think there was something squirrelly with that stop from the get-go.

First off, the feds need to find a way to crack down on all these sneaky local police tactics, including speed traps. Those cops in South Pasadena should be arrested for doing that, and the department probably should have been taken over by either the state or the federal government, as should the Waller County, Texas department that apparently pulls people over for something that should be illegal.

Or should it? Mark Joseph Stern has something to say about that: officer can’t pull you over unless he has reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime. Here, Trooper Brian Encinia clearly had reasonable suspicion that Bland committed an offense: She changed lanes without a signal, in violation of Texas traffic law. Leaving aside the question of whether Encinia effectively forced Bland to change lanes (which she alleges in the video), the footage demonstrates that the trooper acted within the law when pulling her over.
Maybe the "released footage" demonstrates that, but I wonder if the dash-cam stuff we didn't see shows not only what really happened -- that is, if he forced her over, but also whether he had his flashers and overhead lights going before she changed lanes, which would indicate she moved because he was trying to pass. This citing of people for failing to signal when they pull over to let a cop get by is an old trick that has also been used by small towns to confiscate cash and valuables from unsuspecting rubes passing through. Only recently have the feds seemed to take notice.

But then there's that other matter, as Heather ("Digby") Parton says:
The video of this young woman’s treatment at the hands of police – by all indications for failing to be verbally submissive – is terrifying.
Not being "verbally submissive" may be missing the point; I heard the tape and I heard her being "verbally abusive". Not that she wasn't within her rights to do so, but it's just hard for me to sympathize with her treatment -- or at least at the traffic stop, although that hanging certainly seems extremely suspicious.

But then we hear this on CNN, with Marc Lamont Hill referring to fellow-panelist Harry Houck:
“What Harry is calling arrogance, I’m calling dignity,” Hill declared. “Black people have a right to assert their dignity in public. And just because it doesn’t cohere with what police want doesn’t mean they are being arrogant or dismissive.”
Excuse me? I suppose everybody of every race has an equal right to "assert their dignity in public", but I don't think anybody, of any race, should have the right to assert it in the face of a police officer. 

I'm thinking, First Amendment notwithstanding, that there ought to be laws that dictate the peaceful comportment of both parties in a traffic stop. In fact, because cops' jobs are, even at best, filled with situations that can too easily turn volatile, I even think that, just as you can be summarily punished for showing contempt for a court, we might also need actual "Contempt of Cop" laws, although with a proviso that the contempt has to be caught on tape, to prevent the law from being abused. I also wonder if there being no law against showing contempt for cops doesn't just invite the cops to take the law into their own hands.

But in the meantime, I should also make clear that telling someone they should behave themselves around cops is like telling some girl that dressing in a very sexy outfit might cause some guy to thinking your inviting him to have sex with you, so he ends up raping you; just as how you are dressed should not excuse him from being arrested, not should you being rude to a cop excuse him for mistreating you.

And yes, I realize how insensitive this all sounds for me to bring this up during this Sandra Bland discussion, so let me just end this with this statement:

I really think Sandra Bland is dead because of illegal treatment by the cops. Someone needs to look into this and, assuming there was actual wrongdoing, punish whoever did the wrong.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Response to At a Minimum

(See: Just Above Sunset: "At a Minimum")

I’ll still vote for Bernie Sanders, but I think he’s off base here:
“Unchecked growth – especially when 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent – is absurd,” he said. “Where we’ve got to move is not growth for the sake of growth, but we’ve got to move to a society that provides a high quality of life for all of our people.”
Two problems I have with this.

First of all — and I suppose I should really check with Paul Krugman before I say this — I think there’s a reason that just about all economists say economies need to grow, although I’m not sure what it is. I’ve always wondered if an economy really has to grow, but apparently it does.

I think part of it is that populations grow, and the economy has to keep up with that. After all, what’s an economy for if it doesn’t serve the needs of the people. Another reason may be that, like sharks, economies need to move forward in order to stay alive — and by forward here, we mean upward. The thinking would be that, when economies move, they tend to keep going in that direction, and better they spiral upward than sink into a deflationary spiral.

I don’t think the idea should be to stop growing the economy because it’s only benefitting the very rich. The idea should be to get more balance, making sure nobody in the economy is cut out of it just because some extremely rich people want too much of the pie.

But as for laws and regulations hurting growth, I don’t think they do, in spite of what Republicans think. For example, I think it has been demonstrated that regulating pollution output at power plants creates jobs for regulators and engineers, and creating jobs helps the economy with more spending, just as raising the minimum wage puts more spending money in circulation, and areas that do it show growth.

So Bernie, I intend to vote for you, but only if you stop talking like a Republican.

Paul Waldman:
Scott Walker … is hell-bent on making sure that anyone who gets food stamps in Wisconsin has to endure the humiliation of submitting to a drug test.”
Something I’d like to see more reporters ask these guys is what studies they’re basing these policies on, and in the process of asking the question, citing all those statistics showing that people on welfare use drugs at a lower rate than the general public.

Yeah, I know that arguing him only helps him with his base, but don’t forget, he’s also looking for moderates, who might not like hearing that he doesn’t do his homework, or even that he’s apparently trying to be a deliberate dick in his quest for the asshole vote.

I wonder, hypothetically, were the Supreme Court to rule that any laws along those lines violate the 14th amendment guarantee of equal treatment under the law, if Scott Walker would agree to allow everyone in the country to submit to a drug test, just to make it fair?

Or would that just cause him to say, “Okay, well, then, never mind!”

(Reposted from July 18, 2015 at 10:44 am)

Response to Precision German Engineering

I like the way that 51-year old Berliner, Martin Glaser, thinks:
“A Europe which is ruled by Germany in this way is not the democratic Europe that I would like to have.”
Back when Europeans, partly in hopes of heading off the tendency of European nations to go to war with one another, first considered uniting them under a huge trade agreement, they explained to outsiders that this new European Union would be sort of a “United States of Europe”.

But first of all, as Glaser points out, this “United States of Europe” seems to be dominated by Germany, whereas in the “United States of America“, there is no entity analogous to Germany that dominates. If Louisiana gets hit by a hurricane, the rest of the country comes to its aid, without a lot of fuss and bother. While the state of Delaware gets back less than a dollar for every dollar they pay in federal taxes, you never hear them complain about South Carolina, which gets close to $8.00 for the same dollar.

One reason for this? Unlike the United States of America, the European Union is not a nation-state, it’s what Wikipedia calls a “politico-economic union of 28 member states“.

And by “member states”, they don’t mean “states” like Delaware and South Carolina, they really mean “nation-states” like Germany and Greece, so forgive me if I’ve said this before (which I have), but while the European Union may think of itself as the United States of Europe, in reality, it’s more like the so-called “United States” as we existed under our Articles of Confederation — a loose union of sovereign nations, which included actual nation-states like Connecticut and Rhode Island — but that was before we wised up and nipped that foolishness in the bud by turning the whole kit and caboodle into a proper country of its own — and, probably not coincidentally, granted it the exclusive right to print its own money which replaced money printed by the states themselves. Most of us probably don’t realize this, but in ratifying the Constitution, we were taking nationhood away from its individual states and granting it to the whole group of them.

In truth, any member nation using the Euro, a currency it does not control, is doing something similar to what Argentina was doing as it fought its way out of a weak economy in the early 1990s when it came up with the brilliant idea of setting the absolute value of its peso to one U.S. dollar, a foreign currency that it didn’t control. That worked well for a while, with the economy bounding back and kids stopped starving to death, but within the decade, after next-door neighbor Brazil devalued it’s own currency against that dollar, the whole Argentine economy fell apart again and didn’t right itself until it let the peso start floating again in 2002.

The moral? A country needs its own currency, and one that, when the situation demands it, the country can take absolute control over. No linking it to someone else’s currency, and no joining with other countries to share a currency. You need your own, period.

But given that Greece is not about to leave the Euro this week, we’re still faced with the problem of how to get its economy humming again. Let’s start with what Kevin Drum says:
Europe wants Greece to cut its spending and run a balanced budget.
Which is like demanding that they eat their cake and have it to. We know by now that it doesn’t work that way.

First, we need to remember the equation that defines a national economy:

Economy = C + I + G + (X – M)

Or you can put it this way:

A “National Economy” equals “Consumer Spending” plus “Business Investment” plus “Government Spending” plus (“Exports” minus “Imports”).

What most people forget about — in particular, Republicans like Carly Fiorina, who insists she’s the only candidate who understands the economy — is the existence of that “G”. Yes, our government’s spending is an important ingredient in the recipe that makes up our economy.

So now we see that it’s sort of like that “If you give a mouse a cookie…” story:

* When we cut government spending, then we’re cutting spending out of the economy
* When the economy is cut, then so is its income
* When incomes are cut, then so are income tax revenues
* A loss of a government’s revenues, by definition, increases the deficit
* And whenever the deficit is increased, some cluster of brain cells somewhere concludes that what we really need to do right now is cut government spending …

… and the whole race to the bottom begins all over again. And so, if Angela Merkel and her gang of German Princelings were only to look closely at Greece and apply some of that famous Teutonic logic, they will see that that’s exactly what’s been happening there.

If the countries of Europe really want to help make Greece strong, they should give it short- and long-term interest-free loans, but only on the condition that they increase government spending, and not reduce it.

(Reposted from July 17, 2015 at 7:56 am)