"PLEDGE TO AMERICA": THE ORIGINAL DRAFT

Posted in Rants on September 29th, 2010 by Ed

Don't ask me how, but I managed to get my hands on a copy of the first draft of the much-publicized and wildly popular GOP Pledge to America. I know, I know, you've already read the final draft dozens, perhaps hundreds of times. But I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the raw ideas straight from the mouths of revolutionaries and before the slick marketing people polished off all of the rough edges (Some of this stuff is too real for the American people to handle, obviously). Since the actual Pledge is almost 50 pages long, I can't go through the whole draft here but I can share the overview. Pretty interesting stuff:

We Pledge…to write a document so long that you will not actually read it. At 48 pages we fully understand that this is 47 pages beyond the attention span of our target audience. Hell, the average Family Circus panel is a little overwhelming to the kind of voter we expect to be persuaded by this cloying, viscous garbage. We will gin up the introduction with the most insipid fluff** we can copy from Mitch McConnell's campaign brochures so that the rare person who decides to try reading this will be glazed over and daydreaming by the third paragraph. Our goal is to get our base to treat this the same way they treat the Bible and the Constitution – don't read it, just agree with it vociferously.

We Pledge…to continue fighting the Cold War until it is over and victory has been achieved. Missile defense? It's in there. We won't let Ivan slip one past our radar. We're relying pretty heavily on the 55-and-over crowd this November, so it was either Missile Defense (which doesn't even work) or something about Matlock. This made more sense because, I guess, conceivably in 20 or 30 years Iran could build an ICBM.

We Pledge…to take advantage of your short memories to cover our naked hypocrisy. You people are like fruit flies, so we can say things like "We promise to read every bill before voting" and rest assured that you won't remember the Patriot Act and stuff like that. Ditto "We will adhere to the Constitution" which will make good use of that black hole in your memories between 2000 and 2008. On that note…

We Pledge…to re-hash a bunch old, stale ideas and hope you won't notice. Tax cuts! Reducing spending! Smaller government! Yeah, it's pretty much the Contract with America. Or our talking points for the last 75 years. Or the same shit we said for the 12 years we were in power. Which dovetails nicely into our next point…

We Pledge…to make a bunch of promises we haven't the slightest intention of keeping. We're gonna reduce the size of the Federal government this time, we swear! We're totally going to cut the budget, honest Injun! We're going to respect the rules and procedures of Congress and treat the minority party respectfully.

We Pledge…to slip in a few of our donors' pet causes even though they have nothing to do with the goals we lay out in the document. If we promise like 50 different things, what are the odds anyone will notice "malpractice reform" and "prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion" (which doesn't even exist! But don't tell our base!) among all the nonsense? I think "card check" is in there somewhere too, but it was like 5:45 AM when we finished so I don't remember. Seriously, the sun was coming up and I was all like "Let's go get some IHOP" to Jim DeMint and Bob Corker.

We Pledge…to strain credulity to the breaking point and beyond. We will say things like "We will fight efforts to use a national crisis for political gain" with a straight face so that every sentient person who reads this thing will be like "Holy balls. Are they fucking serious? I mean, is this like a real thing or The Onion?" Honestly we're just having some fun with you in the last few pages. But it all sounds enough like stuff we might say in earnest that the media will be perplexed. Is this satire? We won't tell!!

We Pledge…to get a week's worth of free advertising out of this mind-blowingly uninteresting shit. There's not a single new idea here, but what is the media going to do, ignore it and let us go into hysterics about "liberal bias"? Despite the fact that the uncritical media coverage will essentially be free advertising for our candidates, we know that the networks will run with this stale nonsense in the interest of "fairness" and objectivity.

And most of all…We Pledge…to laugh our asses off it this works. Come on, people! We're not even trying anymore! This took about six hours and zero dollars to put together, and most of the six hours was waiting while Dick Armey made the cover – He was all like "Dude I know Photoshop" but it was obvious that he had never really used it, and then we wasted about an hour looking for that Olde Tyme Constitution-lookin' font. But it was totally worth it, because the cover looks sweet…and that's the most important part.

**"America is more than a country. America is an idea – an idea that free people can govern themselves…America is the belief that any man or woman can – given economic, political, and religious liberty – advance themselves, their families, and the common good. America is an inspiration to those who yearn to be free and have the ability and the dignity to determine their own destiny."

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

Posted in Rants on September 29th, 2010 by Ed

I once heard Noam Chomsky make a funny and somewhat prescient point during a radio show – it may also appear in his books, but I'm not sure – about American intelligence. He said that he firmly believed that Americans have the mental capacity to understand politics, inequality, the media, and all of the various and sundry problems of contemporary America. His evidence, he noted half-humorously, was AM radio sports talk call-in shows. He noted that people who probably cannot name their Congressman or describe what the 1st Amendment says can easily rattle off facts with amazing detail about the 1985 Bears or the batting averages of the 1961 Yankees. In other words, we are not dumb but our priorities are badly out of whack. We know a lot about things that are irrelevant and we spend our available time educating ourselves about frivolous things – sports, TV shows, celebrity gossip, and so on.

For many years I felt like this anecdote summed up our problems quite nicely, so much so that I referenced it in class more than once. We have a world of information at our fingertips and we choose to spend hours on Facebook or staring at LOLcats. We have libraries full of free books and we would rather watch TV. We could watch the news but instead we watch When Animals Attack 5. Over time, though, the more I thought about his quote the less true it sounded. As a devoted sports fan and one-time writer for an online sports forum, I have more than enough direct experience to contradict his suggestion about sports fans. Go ahead and browse an online comment section for your favorite sport, especially if it is something low-brow like soccer or football. The overwhelming majority of what is said makes absolutely no sense. Most of it is worse than YouTube comments. Likewise, those sports call-in shows do not prove anything like what ol' Noam suggests. Facts are either recited incorrectly, distorted, or ignored altogether. Arguments are incoherent, childish, and bilious. In short, it isn't a bunch of people devoting their non-negligible intellectual skills to a topic of little relevance. It's just a bunch of retards screaming, fueled by anger and entirely uninterested in making sense. It would be bad enough if Chomsky was right and we all understood sports but not politics; the sad reality is that we don't know jack shit about either. That guy who can't explain why he hates Barack Obama is not the slightest bit better able to explain why he hates Brett Favre or the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

It is highly likely that in the past few days you have been forwarded a link to a Pew survey establishing how little Americans know about religion. The media and smug types like us love these surveys because they make us feel superior and they confirm what we already believe about the world around us. "Ha ha! Can you believe that 35% of adults can't name (the Vice President / which party controls Congress / the religion of the Pope or Dalai Lama / etc)!" In the recent Pew survey, people who claim to be Catholics can't explain basic dogma – like, the kind of stuff 8 year-olds learn in Sunday School – and Protestants can't pick Martin Luther out of three choices when asked to identify the leader of the Reformation. So that person you know at work or in the neighborhood who can't make a rational argument about anything social or political but is obviously quite religious…well, there's a decent chance that he or she sounds every bit as stupid talking about religion.

Concurrently, Matt Taibbi dropped his Tea Party piece over at Rolling Stone, focusing heavily on how his subjects are utterly incapable of processing the most basic information that contradicts their rage- and fear-driven worldview. You can't explain to them that there are no Death Panels, that white Christian men are not an oppressed minority, and that a person who works for the government and has a wife on Medicare should not be publicly protesting "the out of control welfare state." They stare back as though they have been bonked over the head by a cartoon mallet, the glass-eyed, empty look of a person who, at the most basic and insurmountable level, simply does not get it. It is the look of a person totally incapable of processing the notion that something he or she believes might be incorrect.

The real issue, and I mean the real, honest-to-god Problem With The World Today, is that Americans as a nation are dumb. Really fucking dumb. The Pew survey, the Tea Party, or the afternoon baseball call-in show on WFAN underscore the point that Americans will fail a quiz about any topic you can throw at them. Americans will make crappy, emotional, illogical arguments about whatever subject holds their interest, from the Supreme Court to the World Cup. We have systematically devalued and dismantled education in this country to the point that the Japanese, Europeans, and so on aren't just beating us at math and science. They can beat us at essentially anything, because most of us can't comprehend things we read, retain simple facts, or construct an argument that adheres to the basic rules of logic. We are ignorant of the past, the present, and even our own professed belief systems. We often bemoan apathy, our national lack of desire to understand the government, law, economy, or politics. But the problem is not simply that we don't want to know; if our slipshod grasp of the few things in which we do profess an interest are any indication, we wouldn't get it even if we tried.

IN WHICH I DEFEND MEGAN McARDLE

Posted in Rants on September 28th, 2010 by Ed

The thing I hate about right-wing bloggers in the main is not their ideology or their all too frequent disregard for facts. It is the purity and consistency of their partisan hackery that drives me nuts. They take the role of "the opposition" so far beyond its logical conclusion that there is neither a reason to respect them nor any basis on which to do so. If Barack Obama says white, they say black. If he says yes, they say no. If he comes out in favor of happiness and puppies, they fly into a hysterical rage because he has insulted contentness and kittens. It's histrionic, it's mindless, and it's what they do. I am not wrong because I make bad arguments; I am wrong because I am a liberal and therefore everything I say must be wrong, or on the off chance that I am correct it is their duty to loudly disagree with me anyway.

I fail to see the need for anyone on the left to emulate this logic. It's lazy and we hardly need to disregard the truth in order to find ways to insult people like Glenn Reynolds. Why disagree with everything he says? Just wait for him to say things that are flat-out wrong or make no sense, which he does about 10 times per day. Keeping the moral high ground requires surprisingly little effort and patience. These people say so many idiotic things that there is no need to grasp at straws for the sake of bashing everything they say. Unfortunately my favorite blog, Sadly, No!, has succumbed to that temptation. Here is their famous "shorter version" gag, in which they post a link to a right-wing opinion column and then re-phrase it in one short sentence, applied to a recent Megan McArdle piece:

The problem is that her piece ("How to Survive a Layoff") says absolutely nothing of the sort. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it constitutes reasonable advice to the laid-off. An excerpt from the New York Times piece that forms the basis of McMegan's criticisms:

As an auditor, Ms. Reid loved figuring out the kinks in a manufacturing or parts delivery process. But after more than 20 years of commuting across Puget Sound to Boeing, Ms. Reid was exhausted when she was let go from her $80,000-a-year job. Stunned and depressed, she sent out resumes, but figured she had a little time to recover. So she took vacations to Turkey and Thailand with her husband, who is a home repairman. She sought chiropractic treatments for a neck injury and helped nurse a priest dying of cancer.

In four years of job hunting, Ms. Reid has discovered that she is no longer technologically proficient. In one of a handful of interviews she has secured, for an auditing position at the Port of Seattle, she learned that the job required skills in PeopleSoft, financial software she had never used. She assumes that deficiency cost her the job.

Ms. Reid is still five years away from being eligible for Social Security. But even then, she would be drawing early, which reduces monthly payments. Taking Social Security at 62 means a retiree would receive a 25 percent lower monthly payout than if she worked until 66.

(snip) And she admits some regrets: she had a $180,000 balance in her 401(k) account, and paid $80,000 in penalties and taxes when she cashed it out early. She did not rein in her expenses right away. And now, her $500-a-week unemployment benefits have been exhausted. She has since cut back, forgoing Nordstrom shopping sprees and theater subscriptions, but also cutting out red meat at home and putting off home repairs.

McArdle identifies these as "common mistakes" among the laid-off. We can debate the use of "common" as an adjective and criticize the right-wing assumption that everyone who is unemployed behaves this way, but there is no disputing the basic fact that this person's response to being laid off was a series of bad decisions. Cut her some slack on raiding the 401(k), which may have been out of desperation, but generally this is a good example of what not to do. So Megan says with her advice, which boils down to:

1. Start saving while you are working (Useless in hindsight, but just plain common sense for the currently employed)
2. Develop a crisis plan when you are fired
3. Look for a new job immediately
4. Don't raid retirement funds prior to age 60
5. Don't refi the house for short-term cash
6. Get a job doing something to help keep you afloat (i.e., a Starbucks job)

Look, it all sounds very preachy and smug coming from The Megan, who wouldn't know economic hardship if if blew a load in her face. That doesn't change the fact that this is remarkably similar to the advice you, I, or anyone else would give a laid off person. Start planning while you're still getting paid. Go into Emergency Spending Mode when you lose your source of income. Don't dawdle with your job search. The refi and 401(k) advice is debatable, but is merely subjective rather than glaringly incorrect. And while I have said before that I understand exactly why people with skills don't go work at Burger King immediately upon losing their jobs, I have plainly agreed with the idea that if you can't pay your bills that is a necessary step ("If I had six months of benefits, I would look for an academic job for six months. When it ran out and the next step was eviction, then I'd swallow pride and see if Wal-Mart needs a cart wrangler.")

God knows I love kicking Megan McArdle around, and it is remarkably easy to do so on a regular basis. Every couple of days she says something incorrect, annoyingly condescending, or ridiculous. It requires so little patience to wait for the next opportunity if I'm filled with a sudden urge to give her a beatdown. There is nothing to be gained by trying to savage everything she says just for the sake of doing it. Leave the partisan hackery to those who do it well, namely Megan and her ideological colleagues. When she says something intelligent I am more than happy to give her some credit for it. To do as Sadly, No! has done here not only demeans our message but, frankly, it makes it look like they didn't really read the article before criticizing it. Let's leave that kind of intellectually lazy, morally bankrupt garbage to the people who are so very good at it.

FREE MARKET PROGRAMMING

Posted in Rants on September 27th, 2010 by Ed

America is a bit of a mess at the moment. We are rightly preoccupied with the half-dozen serious issues we currently face as a society: double-digit unemployment, 19th Century plutocrat levels of income inequality, two ongoing wars, global terrorism, and an upcoming election. So it only stands to reason that the heavyweight of investigative journalism on American television – CBS's 60 Minutes – would devote this season's premiere episode to a hard-hitting piece on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Among other things they learn that he is wildly popular in New Orleans. But it's not a fluff piece; they investigate claims about the accuracy of his arm by having him throw footballs at any number of semi-humorous targets.

How did we get here?

Let's jump back to 1960. American households with televisions received a tiny amount of broadcast news each day, at least by our current standards. People basically got the three major networks – ABC, NBC, and CBS – each of which carried a half hour each of local (think Ron Burgundy) and national (Walter Cronkite) news. More importantly, they all offered their news programming at the same time in the evening. This had two important implications. First, the amount of news on TV was comparatively small. And second, the networks' news programs competed among themselves. CBS news was on opposite NBC and ABC news, so the ratings competition was news vs. news vs. news. The way to win that hour was to provide news programming that was more appealing (although as today's ratings prove, that does not necessarily mean "better") than the other networks.

Then cable came along and broke the stranglehold of the major networks. We started to get lots of channels, and St. Ronnie reminded us that choice and competition are the greatest of all gifts. Then CNN came along (followed a decade later by Fox News, MSNBC, and so on) and gave us 24-hour news. No longer would we be slaves to the networks' schedule. We could get news whenever we wanted it! Freedom! Freeeeeeeeeedom! Just think of how much better informed our society will be when people can watch news 24-7.

Today we see that cable has indeed brought us choice – hundreds of channels, in fact. A cornucopia of dreck. A panoply of bullshit. We can watch anything at any time: news, comedy, movies, infomercials, porn, sports, "educational" programming, and endless varieties of prefabricated reality. The concept of the evening "news hour" no longer exists. The local news is still a fixture (although its actual news content is pitiful) but The News has essentially been farmed out to the heavyweights of cable. In theory this should not make a difference or it should work out to a net positive: more news, available when we want it.

The problem, of course, is that the news no longer competes with other networks' news; it competes with the 800 channels of entertainment that pump out alternatives around the clock. Yes, "serious" news shows like Meet the Press or 60 Minutes are still on. Yes, CNN et al provide news around the clock. But news programs and networks are no less ratings-driven than anything else on TV, and most people aren't that interested in watching news when they could be watching reality shows, sitcoms, sports, and what have you. The question is no longer how to get people to watch CBS News instead of NBC News. It is how to get people to watch CNN instead of Bulging Brides, college basketball, and House marathons.

Over the last decade or two we have seen what the benevolent invisible hand of the free market has done to our news. To compete with entertainment programming it looks more and more like it every day. It has become news in name only. "News" about celebrities, sports, consumer goods, and other trivialities moves from the back sections of the paper to the banner headlines. Networks linger for weeks over real but irrelevant stories like Natalee Holloway, the release of the iPad, and so on. What real news they cover is presented in carefully tested "entertaining" formats – usually a split screen or roundtable of people screaming at each other – with perhaps a full minute devoted to each Big Story of the Day.

The media is a business and it exists to make money. On TV, it does so by attracting viewers. The news networks are relied upon to provide an important public service, but they are not public servants. Neither are they a charity. They need to get and hold your attention, and today that means successfully competing with hundreds of channels offering programming that is much more interesting to an average viewer than the news. The competition between news and entertainment has produced a combination of the two that no longer fits either definition.

We want to be entertained more than we want to be informed, much as we would rather have candy for dinner than eat our vegetables when we are kids. Thus in broadcasting, "competition" is just another word for "race to the bottom." It may not be right to force another person to eat vegetables, but when the plate of broccoli is offered on a buffet alongside a thousand varieties of ice cream, cake, and pie, we know goddamn well what we'd have to do to that broccoli in order to persuade any customers to take it.

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NPF: I AM A CAMPFIRE AND YOU ARE THE SUN

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 23rd, 2010 by Ed

One of the most frequent questions I get, be it from readers I know personally or random internet strangers, is "What does 'FJM' mean?" It stands for Fire Joe Morgan, a defunct blog about baseball written by a trio that remained anonymous for years but finally revealed their identities a short while before throwing in the towel ('Ken Tremendous' turned out to be Michael Schur, who is one of the head writers for The Office…and Dwight Schrute's cousin Mose). While very little Ginandtacos content is baseball-related – believe me, I resist the temptation almost weekly – I regularly borrow the classic FJM format of inserting smart-assed responses and profane comments into the text of an opinion column.

I've sent a few Ginandtacos FJMs to the original FJM troika but, being Hollywood Types, I assume they have better things to do with their time, or at least more important people to waste it with, than to read this thing or respond to random emails. With all due respect, I believe I've gotten pretty good at their art form with time and practice. I am no "dak" or Ken Tremendous, nor am I ready for employment at Fremulon Insurance, but I feel like I have gotten to the point at which I can FJM some pile of journalistic shit effectively enough that I wouldn't embarrass myself if compared to the masters.

Then I received with great delight the news of deadspin.com's FJM Reunion. Seeing the trio back at work again is a wonderful if somewhat humbling reminder of how far I have to go to reach their level of excellence. Just…go there now. Read. Drink it in. Unfortunately (and I think this is one point in favor of the G&T FJM) their pieces will not make sense to non-baseball fans. To limit such brilliance to a small subset of American sports fans is a shame. Without understanding Juan Pierre, VORP, Derek Jeter, the verbal diarrhea of Joe Morgan himself, and the occasion Plaschke op-ed, one cannot really appreciate what they are doing.

I hope the reunion becomes an annual event. In the meantime I will continue to use FJM as both a verb and a noun to pay homage to the original site. Guys, if you ever stumble across Ginandtacos while Googling "FJM", rest assured that I have done my best to uphold the guiding principle of FireJoeMorgan.com: to point out mercilessly – in the most profane and amusing way possible – retarded arguments made by nitwits in the vain hope of making our world more hospitable to logic and hostile to demonstrably false folk wisdom and "common sense."

Now go. Learn from the elders.

FAITH AND CREDIT

Posted in Rants on September 23rd, 2010 by Ed

My 60 year-old father, the man who took me to a Reagan/Bush 84 rally at the ol' Madhouse when I was 5, is a judge. No weepy liberal is he, but he is fond of pointing out that gay marriage is coming and all of the Falwellian hand-wringing in the world isn't going to stop it. This is so not because it is possessed of inherent moral "rightness" or any such nonsense but because the law is firmly on its side. Civil law, that is (religious definitions of marriage being another story altogether). Gay marriage is in fact the most perfect example of how poorly conservatives understand the Constitution. If only they devoted as much time to reading the damn thing as they do to "defending" it.

Most legal arguments over gay marriage, especially at the state level, tend to revolve around equal protection claims – 14th Amendment stuff. However, Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution (available here, TeaTards) contains something more relevant called the Full Faith and Credit clause. It states:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

The FFC is the reason why it is not necessary to get a new driver's license to drive in a different state. Every state in the union accepts my Georgia-issued license as valid, as valid as if their own state issued it. I am legally married in Marion County, Indiana. I did not have to get re-married to be legally married in Georgia. Georgia is required to respect and give credit to the public "acts and records" of Indiana. Similarly, if I legally adopt a child in Georgia, said human is legally my child in every state in the union. States are not required to give Faith and Credit to laws passed in other states. For example, a gun can be legal in Idaho and illegal to own in California. Buying fireworks in a state in which doing so is legal will not keep you out of trouble if you bring them into a state in which they are illegal. So laws can differ by state but respect for the "acts" and "records" is guaranteed among states. This is quite clear.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) explicitly contradicts Art. IV, Sec. 1 of the Constitution. Anti-gay marriage groups always pull back on their legal challenges of pro-gay marriage laws because they have no illusions about how the Supreme Court is likely to rule on DOMA. Sure, Clarence Thomas will engage in some mental gymnastics and Activist Judging to justify the law, maybe Alito too. But who else? To argue that the law is constitutional requires one to accept the validity of the FFC clause while allowing Congress the authority to define what is an is not an "act" of state government. But from where does Congress derive this authority? If we read that ol' Teabagger favorite the 10th Amendment – Seriously guys, try reading this thing at some point! All kinds of wild shit in here! – we notice that:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

If anyone can find the part of Article I that delegates the power to define what is an is not an Article IV "act", please bring it to our attention. Other than some weak-ass recourse to the Elastic Clause, there is none…which explains the non-Libertarian right's hesitance to appeal DOMA challenges in the Federal courts. They prefer the mob rule approach, seeking to outlaw gay marriage by ballot referendum or by amendments to state constitutions. Legally, a state has every right to declare gay marriage illegal or unconstitutional. What they do not have is the right to ignore or nullify legally constituted acts of another state absent the ridiculous DOMA law that can't hold its own in any court except the court of mid-1990s public opinion.

If a single state is issuing gay marriage licenses, those licenses must be recognized by every state. The Full Faith & Credit clause is clear on that point and wingers are ever so fond of reminding us that they follow the Constitution literally. For the same reason that quickie divorces used to be a major industry in Nevada – those divorces had to be recognized by states with much more complex divorce laws – one state with legal gay marriage is enough. This is what any Federal court deciding a DOMA challenge on the basis of the law and not moral/political hysterics will say, which in turn is exactly why Rev. Dobson and his ilk always stop their legal challenges just short of being told what they can't accept and don't want to hear.

JOHN HAWKINS IS A STUPID PERSON

Posted in Rants on September 22nd, 2010 by Ed

Intellectual Chernobyl's resident fratboy – how sad is it to set the bar at Goldberg / Brietbart and still be unable to clear it? – lets "the establishment" know that it gets 7 things wrong about the TeaTards.

1. The Tea Partiers have a radical agenda!

Nobody believes this. It is a sad, Koch-funded rehash of the last 50 years of ultra-conservatism under a new banner. Birchers -> Moral Majoritarians -> Dittoheads -> Teabaggers. Same group of idiots, same ration of horseshit for ideas.

2. These Tea Partiers don't believe in compromise!

Hawkins explains how Washington defines compromise as "giving the liberals everything they want." With Teabaggers in power (suspend disbelief for a moment and imagine it) there will be compromise, redefined as giving the Teabaggers everything they want.

3. The Tea Party is driving away moderates!

No, it's just nominating drooling assheads who can't win general elections.

4. The Tea Party is knocking off important Republicans we need in D.C.!

Put a period after "Republicans" and this is true.

5. These Tea Partiers are just Republicans who will fall in line once the GOP gets power again!

Fall in line with whom? The sane members of the GOP? I'm sure the 'Baggers will be perfectly willing to John Hawkins Compromise with whoever is in power.

6. These Tea Partiers don't understand how politics works!

The Hawk allows that "there are plenty of people at Tea Parties who aren't all that hooked into politics" and "it's fair to say that some of the candidates the Tea Party has backed have turned out to be duds." He goes on to argue that "establishment" Republicans (Crist, etc.) do not understand politics. Having punted the question of whether Teabaggers understand politics, he moves on. That said, Things Tea Partiers Do Not Understand is the longest book in the English language and, when translated, will give Remembrance of Things Past a run for its money.

7. These Tea Partiers just want to say "no" to everything!

Hudson Hawk explains:

Right now, our country is like a car that's heading toward a cliff at 100 mph and the people in charge want to simultaneously speed up and cut the brake lines. Are we supposed to say, "Why don’t we meet you in the middle? Cut the brake lines, slow it down to 55 mph, and we'll stop all our backseat complaining about that cliff. Deal?"

In other words they say no to everything and will continue to do so until everyone perceives politics through the same paranoid, reactionary lens. Or to put it more poetically:

Put a balanced budget amendment, term limits, and a repeal of Obamacare on the agenda and watch how quickly Tea Partiers say "yes." But, until we get the barrel of the gun out of this country's mouth, we have to keep saying "no" when we're asked for handfuls of bullets.

Kind of an odd analogy from a group of people who spend a substantial portion of their time hand-loading ammo in their basements. I mean, who else do we ask for bullets?

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FAILURE TO PERCEIVE

Posted in Rants on September 21st, 2010 by Ed

Just as I was getting ready to address the topic of the "so-called" rich making over $250,000, Glenn Reynolds' retarded ass dropped this gift directly into our laps. Hence Brad DeLong and Michael O'Hare have already done the requisite rhetorical bitchslapping of Reynolds' ridiculous argument.

To recap in brief, Instarube writes of a fellow law professor, one Prof. Henderson, with a working spouse. Together Henderson claims that their incomes exceed the "$250,000 threshold for the super-rich (although not by much)." O'Hare proceeds to do some math based on the information provided by Henderson/Reynolds and determines that the prof and his wife make about $330,000 – comfortably over the "threshold" after all. Their approximate budget looks something like this, O'Hare estimates (and shows his work):

Taxes $100,000

Housing* $65,000 mortgage + 15,000 insurance & maintenance = $80,000

Two really nice cars $.70/mile x 15,000** miles = $10,500

Student loan payments (20 year amortization at 10%) = $60,000

*Why a couple with a half-million dollars of debts decides it needs a million-dollar house in Chicago, where the Hyde Park average price ” near their work” is a third of that, is not entirely clear. Also note that $25,000 of this is going into their own pockets, building equity in their house.

**They live near their work, so this is probably generous.

This leaves about $90,000, a lousy $245 a day, for food, clothes, vacations, cable TV, and like that. You can walk into Nordstrom’s on Upper Michigan and spend that in a minute, and for stuff you really need. Really, I don’t know how these people get by; their adaptive skills, economical habits, and modest living style is an inspiration to all of us. Perhaps they are careful to tip no more than 15% at the Sizzler when they splurge.

Henderson follows up with DeLong, pointing out, among other issues, that this approximate budget omits "education and daycare", which will "come close to $60,000" this year. Then the wheels, tenuously attached as they were, really fall the fuck off:

Like most working Americans, insurance, doctors’ bills, utilities, two cars, daycare, groceries, gasoline, cell phones, and cable TV (no movie channels) round out our monthly expenses. We also have someone who cuts our grass, cleans our house, and watches our new baby…. [W]e have less than a few hundred dollars per month of discretionary income.

So they have three domestic servants, a million-dollar home (in a Hyde Park neighborhood in which the median home price is about $300,000), and they devote to their three children a combined $60,000 in K12 education and daycare. And he's angry, for some reason, about the $500,000 in student loans for Wifey's med school that must be repaid.

See, this is the problem with this entire debate and with accusations of "class warfare" in general: these people do not feel rich because they are essentially living paycheck-to-paycheck. Their personal financial skills are so piss-poor and their sense of things to which they are entitled is so great that they look at the balance sheet and decide that they aren't rich after all. How can they be "rich" if they struggle to make ends meet?

The median family income in this country is just over $50,000. The Henderson clan makes seven or eight times that, yet they still don't have any money. Prof. Henderson is panicked about a small Federal tax increase because they have no leeway. Everything they make, they spend. Often they spend the money before they even make it. So despite the $300,000+ in annual income, they can't afford many of the outward signs of wealth – fancy vacations, lavish wardrobes, shopping/redecorating sprees, $20,000 watches, and so on. Those are things that rich people have. Ergo people who do not have them are not rich, right?

Never mind the fact that every aspect of the Professor's personal finances represents a choice, not to mention an indulgence. The million-dollar house, the nanny, the $60,000 in private school tuition, the maid, the landscaper…none of these things are necessities. If they want to live MTV Cribs-style on a third of a million dollars, they could put the kids in public school or live outside of Chicago city limits. They could clean their own kitchen and mow their own lawn. That would leave plenty for bling, vacations, a couple of BMWs, and all of the other "show-me" aspects of wealth.

DeLong suggest that the problem is the growing gap between the merely rich like Henderson and the Super-Rich who live the lifestyle that Henderson et al associate with being rich. They go to Dubai, own multiple homes, eat at the $1000 restaurants, and so on. I'd argue that this is a simple failure to realize that the rest of us – and I mean like 99% of Americans – can and do get by on less than one Henderson kid's kindergarten tuition. We make it work. In most cases, we do just fine. We'd like more money and we don't live in luxury, but we're getting by. That we can't afford a million-dollar home and a nanny is not evidence that we are poor. We aren't. More importantly, Professor, you are neither poor nor an Average Working Joe just because you manage to piss through the huge amount of money you make with such stunning alacrity.

IT'S OK, WE'LL STILL HAVE SOCIAL SECURITY

Posted in Rants on September 20th, 2010 by Ed

At the risk of repeating everything I've already said about the Baby Boomers – the greatest, most amazing, and specialest generation ever to grace the planet – they still manage to shock me on a regular basis with their brazen selfishness.

The pension system for the University of California system was running a surplus by the end of the 1980s. So in 1990 they did what any reasonable Boomer-led institution would do: they stopped contributing to their own retirement benefits. The state happily did the same (the system was funded by employee payroll deductions and matching contributions from the state). This is classic Boomer logic. If your pension fund / Federal budget runs a surplus, stop paying into it immediately and spend the "savings" on yourselves.

Of course it wouldn't be a Boomer-run operation if the pension fund made wise, safe investments. When the real estate market collapsed the fund lost almost 25% of its value. Shockingly, the decline in value combined with 20 years of not paying into the system left it billions of dollars under water and unable to meet its obligations. So employees had to start contributing again, albeit a mere 2% of gross pay. But the Regents have just increased the contribution requirement to 5% in what is now essentially a pay-as-you-go system. Professors (or Regents, or custodians, or any other employee) who started working in the 70s or 80s did not contribute a cent to their own retirement for two decades and now they've decided that the current young generation of workers will bankroll their retirements.

It would be one thing if younger workers were being asked to increase their contributions in order to make the system solvent again. But the pension fund is nearly insolvent and today's new employees are paying just to keep benefits flowing to current and near-future retirees. I need to find one of those "Keep Working – Millions on Welfare Depend on You" bumper stickers and carefully replace the misguided "welfare" bashing with "Millions of Boomers."

This is only going to get more common in the next few years. Illinois, the only state that might be in worse financial shape than California, recently reformed its Judges' and Legislators' pension plans with the typical Boomer-friendly provisos – current employees near retirement are grandfathered in at 85% of their final salary with a 3% yearly increase versus 60% and no increase for everyone who follows. And it's virtually certain that Social Security "reform" will take the general approach. Keeping in mind how few of us in the younger generations have decent jobs with decent salaries, it's a miracle that they can massage the math enough to make these schemes viable in the short term – to say nothing of their almost certain insolvency over the long run.

Thanks, folks. We'll pay more into your retirement system than you did, secure in the knowledge that it won't even exist anymore by the time we need it.

GINANDTACOS PRESENTS: THE ALL-TIME MOST HORRIFIC SPORTING INJURIES

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 17th, 2010 by Ed

You fear to look yet you cannot turn away.

I was going to give this the "Skip This if You Hate Sports" tag, but videos of people hurting themselves are something everyone can enjoy. While many of you are not big on sports, I've watched quite a bit throughout my life and every once in a while someone gets maimed to the extent that I am forced to remember "Oh, so THIS is why I'm cool with these people making millions of dollars." In fact, nothing irritates me more than listening to people (usually pasty, lazy people posting on sports message boards while on the clock at work) whine about what professional athletes make. Most NFL players can barely walk by the time they're 50, if they reach 50. They're putting themselves in a position to be crippled a few hundred times per week; I'm OK with them making whatever the market for their services will bear.

Having had the opportunity as a pseudo-journalist to go "behind the scenes" at an NFL training camp several years ago, I really grew to appreciate what athletes do to their bodies for our amusement. At the same time I am like a 13 year-old watching Jackass when I see some of this shit. If you're eating or you get queasy with minimal provocation, I'll urge caution. If you're a sick bastard who likes to watch car accidents and yell out "HOLY BALLS DID YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT DUDE'S LEG???" during football games, well, here you go.

Come on. Just let yourself enjoy it, you degenerate. Tangentially, this will have to be limited to videos available on the internets, meaning that the worst thing I've ever seen – Bryant Young's broken leg which left his leg below the knee turned 90 degrees off of the correct direction – has to be omitted, among others.

8. Soccer player Oupa Ngulube breaks his leg.

Wow, Joe Theismann's legendary leg break looks like a sprained ankle compared to this. Check the slow-mo starting at 0:54 (or right here). It gets worse from here on, people.

7. Greg Louganis' head + diving board = bad.

I recall watching this live as a child and being absolutely stunned that he got out of the pool. It's hard to watch this (especially the second video, starting around 0:40) without thinking "OK, yeah, that guy just died."

6. Willis McGahee's knee vs. the laws of physics.

The classic American football total knee blowout. One minute everyone is watching the game, then the next minute we are yelling "HOLY SHIT, DUDE!!!" at the television. Things just aren't supposed to bend that way. McGahee recovered to have a nice NFL career, although he probably wasn't as good as he could have been without the horrible injury.

5. Mary Pierce makes the scariest horror film ever.

This one really doesn't look like much, but the audio is…not pleasant. Extra bonus points for the stupid judge in the pantsuit who walks over like "Excuse me Ms. Pierce, are you alright?" The amount of time it required for her to get medical attention makes me wonder if tennis tournaments are run by monkeys. I like how everyone just stares at her for a minute or two. Way to go, Brits.

4. DeAndre Brown goes all Twizzler-legged.

God bless the American TV networks for being sure to replay injuries hundreds of times from multiple angles and at multiple speeds. Note how his opponent comes over for the standard "Nice play, let me help you up" routine but rapidly turns away in disgust to summon medical help from the sidelines. I am pretty sure the only thing holding his foot on his leg was the sock and perhaps a little skin. And WTF is that trainer doing? "Here, DeAndre. Tell me if it helps if I wiggle the dangling broken part around for no apparent reason. Does that hurt?"

3. Shun Fujimoto shrugs off a destroyed knee at the Olympics

The American stereotype of the Japanese usually involves superhuman levels of dedication and self-sacrifice. I think this was largely reinforced by Mr. Fujimoto's performance at the 1976 Olympics. With a shattered kneecap and torn ACL, he finished the last two events (9.7 on the pommel horse, 9.5 on rings) so the Japanese team could defeat the USSR. His ring dismount shoved the pieces of his shattered kneecap into his thigh. Read that again. He was also famously parodied on The Simpsons. The team surgeon said "How he managed to land without collapsing in screams is beyond my comprehension," which is doctor speak for "What the fuck, man…"

2. Napoleon McCallum redefines horrific knee blowouts

This…this isn't right. It unfolds in slow-motion, and I think we could start a new internet meme of reaction videos from people watching this for the first time. "Hmm, looks OK so far. He's starting to get caught in a pile up. Looks like his foot is OH HOLY FUCK, MAN!" Teammate Tim Brown later said he vomited on the sideline and had nightmares after seeing the injury. You can't un-see this shit. McCallum blew every knee ligament AND broke his leg in several places. Sadly, and somewhat obviously, his bright career ended here.

1. Clint Malarchuk really should not be alive right now

OK. Text before video on this one. The video is not pretty, but it's actually tame compared to how bad the injury was.

A skate clipped the Sabres goalie in the tiny area under his goal mask but above his chest protector, essentially…cutting his throat. The announcers (appropriately) flip the hell out, as do players on the ice. Malarchuk later stated, "All I wanted to do was get off the ice." OK, sounds reasonable for an injured player. "My mother was watching the game on TV, and I didn't want her to see me die."

Oh.

Then he asked the trainer for a priest. This is where it gets intense. The trainer, a Canadian Army medic from the Vietnam War, reaches into the wound and pinches the carotid artery closed with his fingers. This is turning into, like, beer commercial levels of heroic manliness. "Fuck that priest noise, Clint. I am going to close your mortal wound with my goddamn bare hands." Doctors sealed him up with 300+ stitches and noted that had the cut been deeper or the medic not been such a hard-ass, the player would have been dead in less than 90 seconds. Jesus.

And that is why I support athletes' right to get paid whatever the market will pay them to maim and kill themselves in the name of mass entertainment.