Tuesday, February 28, 2012

not our founders' government

Ezra Klein, saying very well what I've been saying very poorly:
Our system, as any historian will tell you, was built by men who hated parties and anticipated their absence from American politics. That didn’t quite work out. But for much of American history, and particularly for much of the 20th century, our political parties have been unusually diffuse and unable to act as organized, ideological units. That left them well-suited to a system that, for reasons ranging from the division of powers to the filibuster, required an unusual level of consensus to function.

But as the two parties have polarized, we’ve learned that a system built for consensus is not able to properly function amid constant partisan competition. The filibuster has gone from a rarity to a constant. Compromise has become rare. Crises of gridlock, such as the recent showdown over the debt ceiling, have become common. And no one can say that this is what the American people want: The approval ratings of Congress have been on a downward slide for decades, and they have never been lower than they are today.

...Polarization is with us now and will be with us for the foreseeable future. The question is whether we will permit it to paralyze our political system and undermine our country or whether we will accept it and make the necessary accommodations.

Doing so would require taking on cherished, consensus-promoting features of the old system, like the filibuster. But in today’s girdlocked world, those features no longer promote consensus. They simply promote gridlock.

The federal government, and many state governments as well, is moving somewhat quickly from dysfunctional to nonfunctional. On the federal level, there are too many ways even a tiny, irresponsible minority can completely shut down the government, in particular the Senate. Meanwhile, many state governments are paralyzed by things like laws requiring a referendum or unrealistically high supermajority for basic functions like taxation.

It needs to stop.

Monday, February 27, 2012

capitalist pigs

Interesting study noted by Ezra Klein. He wonders about correlation and causation, but frankly, if this is true, does it matter? What difference does it make whether assholes become rich people or rich people become assholes? It's an interesting case where the causation doesn't matter, only the correlation.

That being said, it seems a little too convenient to be true. I can definitely see how being an asshole entails feeling like you are more important than other people, and conversely how being placed in a position of privilege makes you think the normal rules of decorum don't apply to you, but these squeaky clean conclusions just don't ever seem to work out in practice.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

trying to be magnanimous

I will say this for Rick Santorum: the dude is totally honest about what he really believes. I actually love this quote in reference to him voting for No Child Left Behind:
I have to admit, I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake. You know, politics is a team sport, folks. And sometimes you've got to rally together and do something.

I love this quote because this is precisely how politics really works. Congressmen and senators regularly have to swallow their beliefs and vote with their team. This is especially true when your party is in the White House. The president sets the entire party's agenda, and if you don't play along, your ability to influence the party's direction and get what you want passed is greatly diminished.

A politician is occasionally going to have to cast a vote they disagree with. Sometimes they have to compromise with the other side, as was the case with NCLB. Sometimes your district really needs money for X, and the Majority Leader decides he's going to attach it to a bill you don't like to get your vote. Sometimes somebody who did you a solid calls in a favor. And then there's the whole matter of one's views gradually changing and the gift of hindsight and all that.

It's ridiculous to expect a politician to have been "right" 100% of the time, and it's good to see someone up there be honest about how it works. Unfortunately, that guy also has the social views of a medieval pope, but again, he's been shockingly candid about those views, including the ones that don't enjoy much favor outside the halls of the Vatican.

Good on you, Senator Santorum, but um, I still hope you never get elected to anything. Let's hang out never.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Libertarian, but only for dudes

Tyler Cowen on his Twitter feed, in reference to the Virginia mandated pre-abortion transvaginal ultrasound bill.

There's an awfully obvious turnabout on this comment that I really would have thought a libertarian would see coming:

"Uh, and what about those on the 'small government' side?"

I'm actually pretty surprised to see Cowen come out as a paternalistic culture warrior. I didn't realize that Ron Paul's "libertarian for boys, authoritarian for girls" philosophy was a pan-libertarian thing. That's really disappointing, but I guess it explains why there are so few libertarian women. Or perhaps the lack of libertarian women explains the dissonant view on women's rights.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

f**k your conscience

I'm a little surprised to see this continuing hubbub over the administration insisting that Catholic institutions receiving federal money offer health care plans that include contraception. I'm even more surprised to see a lot of usually sensible voices taking this garbage seriously, which makes me think I'm not getting something.

Kevin Drum put it in a way that resonates with me: I'm willing to entertain the idea of religious exemptions to certain federal regulations depending on how big of a deal those believers consider that tenet vs. how big of a deal we consider it from a public good standpoint. If Jews consider it super important that Jewish hospitals not prepare kosher foods near pork, and the government has a rule stating otherwise but doesn't have a great reason to demand everything be made in the same kitchen, then fine, give them an exemption.

On contraception, though, the opposite is true. Strong majorities of Catholics support contraception, majorities nearly identical to the general population. From the other side, in terms of public health availability of contraception is very, very important. It more than anything else has allowed women to take control of their own lives, set out on the careers they've always wanted, and keep a number of chronic ailments at bay while, hey, dramatically reducing demand for abortions. "The pill" really is a wonder drug.

A lot of the noise over this issue is no doubt electorally based. Republicans and those rooting for them are chucking every brick they can find at President Obama, and that's fine. They're the opposition; that's their role. Nevertheless, we should be mindful that a lot of disingenuous objections will be raised at him this year. Did anyone give a shit about this rule when President Bush enforced it?

All of that is enough for me to have made up my mind, but it also happens that I have pretty strong feelings on the subject of Rome's anti-contraception stance. I believe that the Vatican's opposition to contraception is barbaric, oppressive, and grossly negligent of the lives of the millions of women at the mercy of Catholic men and Catholic regimes. And this is, I suppose, where I really part ways with many of the liberal Catholics like E. J. Dionne who have been looking for some sort of common ground between the parties. I'm sorry, but religions occasionally get some moral question dead wrong. It happens, and we do ourselves no favors by refusing to question the moral stances of the various faiths.

For instance, I realize it's like farting in church to remind everyone that countless women across the world have died preventable deaths thanks to the Catholic Church's obstruction of sexual education and condom distribution, but the truth hurts. It's also true, though not very ecumenical of me, to point out that a lot of Catholic women have conceived unwanted children only to have them aborted because of Vatican opposition to the pill. And finally, I'd be a real dick making a nevertheless good point if I were to say that maybe perchance the very last people on the planet with any credibility to lecture the American people or their government about the ethics of the bedroom is the US Conference of Bishops.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

fun with numbers: Columbus teacherpocalypse

Today it was announced that the city of Columbus, MS would be shit-canning 54 teachers. Columbus comprises a hair under 26,000 people and expects to save $2.1 million from the massacre.

Surely this is the one scenario in all my posts on this subject where the cost savings are justified, right? The one where the city really can't afford to keep the teachers?

Well, let's have a looksy, shall we?

My trusty calculator tells me that $2.1 million divided by 10,000 households comes out to $210 per household for the year saved by firing the town's up and coming teachers. Sounds like a lot, right?

That's $17.50 per household per month. For a household with two incomes, that's $8.75 off of each monthly paycheck. $4.37 off of a biweekly paycheck, about the cost of an appetizer at Applebee's.

Put another way, the median household income in Columbus is $32,596. $210 would mean extra taxation of about .64%. Not 64% or 6.4%. 64 hundredths of one percent.

Clearly an unconscionable burden for the hard-working folks of Columbus, Mississippi. But hey, on the other hand it's not like Mississippi has to worry about sliding in state-by-state rankings for education!