Pulpit Bulls

Policy, Politics, and What's In Between

Archive for May, 2009

The Hip Hop Makeover Continues

Posted by Eric on May 30, 2009

Via Smooth Like Remy, we get this music video from Young Cons, two white rapping Republicans:

If I was you, I would just imagine what such a video would consist of and not actually watch the thing. Take that as a warning.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

A Quick Thought

Posted by Eric on May 29, 2009

Texas Republican Sen. Jon Cornyn on Gingrich’s and Limbaugh’s relentless attacks on Sonya Sotomayor:

“Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials [and] I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.”

Elected Republicans are obviously fearing a female and Latino backlash and trying to figure out how to approach the Sotomayor nomination. I think that ultimately some Republicans on the Hill who may have opposed her are going to decide that they cannot afford to be seen as contributing to these racist and sexist attacks and are going to (a) go soft on her in the hearings and (b) eventually vote in favor of confirmation. The base’s biggoted bullshit is counterproductive to the GOP’s future electoral success and will likely prove to have been counterproductive in impeding Sotomayor’s nomination. A circular firing squad at its most entertaining.

Posted in SCOTUS | Leave a Comment »

Politics and Performance Parking

Posted by Eric on May 29, 2009

Matt Yglesias writes up a nice post about performance parking. The basic argument  is that parking spaces in cities are under priced. Cheap parking is a product of irrational worries by business owners and city policymakers that if parking gets more expensive, people won’t be willing to go to their shops. But of course the two choices aren’t between overly cheap parking that results in parking spots that are always occupied and expensive parking where spots are always empty. Parking prices can be adjusted to a point where they are still as in-demand as they are now, while generating increased revenue for a city. In fact, you would probably make shoppers less likely to dawdle after a meal or stop to chat on their cellphone, allowing more people to use a parking spot in a single day, and thus actually creating a greater influx of daily commerce. Upon performance parking’s political feasibility, Yglesias writes:

But politically speaking, the best way to make change appealing is probably to earmark the revenue specifically for use in the area getting the performance parking. That way instead of just having the argument about the correct pricing of space on the street, you can sell it to the neighborhood by saying “performance parking is going to repair the sidewalk, refurbish the bus shelter, spruce up this park, and then provide ongoing revenues necessary to keep everything spic and span going forward.”

Sure, it would be great at first, until some enterprising politician comes along and defeats his opponents on the grounds that we should cut “parking taxes” to help consumers and businesses alike, while promising no cuts in services. Soon, you’re back to cheap parking, plus paying for extra street repairs and park maitenance that you can’t afford. Ah, democracy! Gotta love it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Taxin’ and Relaxin’ in the Golden State

Posted by Eric on May 28, 2009

Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times argues that the impetus of California’s cataclysmic budget woes aren’t my home state’s uptick in spending over recent years. Kevin Drum disagrees, before concluding:

California has multiple problems.  Prop 13 reduced our tax base permanently and made it all but impossible to adjust other taxes to make up for it. Citizens have approved bond measure after bond measure in the seeming belief that because they don’t raise taxes, they also don’t cost any money.  The governor and the legislature have relied on way too much smoke and mirrors.  But spending has also gone up.  There’s just no way to understand the whole picture without acknowledging that.

While spending isn’t the sole problem that many Californian conservatives would like to blame for the state’s fiscal woes, it’s also not as blameless as Hiltzik implies. Also worth mentioning is California’s outlay to tax ratio. Californians only get back 78 cents for each dollar of federal taxes, ranking it 43rd of 50 for money tossed back into the state. It’s a high income state (although also one with high cost of living), so it should be expected to pay more than your average state. With that said, when discussing California’s budgetary abyss and potential funding solutions, it’s certianly something that should be brought to the table.

Posted in California, Taxes | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Making Conservative Democrats Squirm

Posted by Eric on May 28, 2009

The LA Times reports on the long road ahead for Republicans attempts to stop Sotomayor’s confirmation:

They are spotlighting her decisions on wedge issues such as gun rights that could put pressure on Democrats from conservative states. And they are preparing for confirmation hearings that they hope will spotlight major differences between the political parties’ legal philosophies. […]

But other conservative activists see lines of attack that would make a filibuster unnecessary: They aim to paint a portrait of Sotomayor to make conservative Democrats squirm, eroding support from within Obama’s party.

Really? My suspicion is that the number of Senators who have ever lost re-election based on their “party’s legal philosophy” or have been defeated because of their Supreme Court confirmation vote hovers around zero. The GOP can flip a coin: heads they decide to piss off the base and support Sotomayor and she gets confirmed. Tails, they decide to please their base and oppose Sotomayor (while pissing off Latinos everywhere) and she gets confirmed anyway. Those are the two options and any pipe dreams about sinking Sotomayor’s nomination are just that.

Posted in Politics, SCOTUS | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Sotomayor Smears v. The Truth

Posted by Eric on May 27, 2009

Rightwingers have been dropping mad diss tracks smack talkin’ Sonia Sotomayor. Smart people have given some pretty convincing rebuttals that you should hear. Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of original thoughts to add, so what can I do? I know: aggregate! For an awesomely convenient list of criticisms and responses concerning our new Supreme Court nominee, meet me below the fold…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in SCOTUS | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Doonesbury Gets Meta

Posted by Eric on May 27, 2009

Doonesbury

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Requiem for “I Have a Dream”

Posted by gregoryholmes on May 27, 2009

I realize that most folks are still processing and reacting to the California Supreme Court’s decision, so I thought I would take a moment to reference the landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia, as the decision in the case goes straight to the heart of the argument for gay marriage.  Chief Justice Warren writes for the majority:

“These statutes also deprive the Lovings of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888). To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

These convictions must be reversed.”

These words were written at a time when only 30% of the public supported the idea of interracial marriage, and if a referendum such as Prop 8 had been held then interracial marriage would almost certainly have been banned all over again.  Indeed, part of the reason we have a system of judicial checks is to protect minorities from the whims of the 50%+1 majorities.

Dr. King once stated that he dreamed of a day when a man would be judged on the content of his character.  Forty-six years later, we are still dreaming for that day.

Posted in Gay Marriage, SCOTUS | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

California Court Upholds Prop 8

Posted by Eric on May 26, 2009

Not a huge surprise, but back in my home state the Supreme Court has ruled that Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages, is not a revision of the State Constitution, and therefore legal. Same-sex couples who have already married, however, will not have their marriages nullified.

My suspicion is that ultimately the fight for same-sex marriage may benefit from this ruling. Prop 8 will be overturned in 2010 or 2012 by Californian voters. That is, the most populous state in the union will legalize gay marriage by public fiat, not by a court decision and not by a vote in the legislature. The “judicial activist” attack will have lost all force and the significance of this cannot be overstated. With that said, today’s ruling really does suck for those couples who would like to be married now (and they should certainly have that right), but let’s not forget that this is a temporary set-back. The side of progress will prevail sooner, rather than later.

Posted in California, Gay Marriage | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Sotomayor

Posted by Eric on May 26, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor will be Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. A friend quips about how Republican opposition should really ingratiate the GOP with Hispanic and female voters. And he’s right – there’s, unsurprisingly, a real level of political acumen in the move.

Anyway, it will be nice to get some diversity on the court, though I don’t have a whole lot more to say than anyone else does. More soon…

Updated with chatter from the sphere. From the progressives:

Scott Limieux at TAPPED opines:

It’s a good, solid pick. Not a home run like Pam Karlan would have been, but I also don’t think she’ll be another Stephen Breyer; I see another Ruth Bader Ginsburg at worst. For me, she would have been #2 among the viable candidates after Diane Wood, and I don’t think Wood is clearly more liberal; they’re within a range in which appellate court records don’t reveal enough information to make firm judgments.

Atrios sez:

…and of course Drudge is highlighting TNR’s “Sotomayor is a stupid bitch according to my anonymous friends” article.

Turned the teevee on…”liberal political activist in the first order.” According to a former clerk for Clarence Thomas. President Gingrich has not weighed in yet.

Glenn Greenwald brings the ruckus:

At his best, Obama ignores and is even willing to act contrary to the standard establishment Washington voices and mentality that have corrupted our political culture for so long. His choice of Sotomayor is a prime example of his doing exactly that, and for that reason alone, ought to be commended.

And from the con blogs:

Ramesh Ponnuru calls Sotomayor:

Obama’s Harriet Miers.

RedState’s Erick Erickson mocks:

Conservatives rejoice. Of all the picks Obama could have picked, he picked the most intellectually shallow.

Seems that liberals like her. Conservatives don’t. Who woulda thunked it?

Posted in SCOTUS | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

CBO BS

Posted by gregoryholmes on May 26, 2009

The Congressional Budget Office is making two very interesting predictions about the economy next year – that GDP will growth by 3.8% while, at the same time, predicting an unemployment rate of 9%.  As unemployment is already at 8.9% now, I fail to understand how GDP can jump up that far without a corresponding increase in employment.

Posted in Economics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Empathy? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Empathy! (Or Do We?)

Posted by Eric on May 25, 2009

Tomorrow, the White House will name Justice Souter’s Supreme Court replacement. Then cable news pundits will spend hours discussing the President’s use of “empathy” earlier this month. Over at Donkeylicious, Neil makes a good and very Donkeylicious point about the word:

An ability to understand other people’s lives — what it’s reasonable to expect of them, what will constitute an undue hardship, why homosexuals don’t have sex with women — is important to making the kinds of decisions that Supreme Court justices actually end up making. Empathy is a big part of how we understand people’s lives and come to know these kinds of things.

While conservative activists might be happy if Souter’s replacement was a PC performing “Ctrl+F” on a Constitution PDF to see what’s explicitly there and what’s not, that isn’t how real life jurisprudence works. It’s application demands thoughtful interpretation and that necessitates a human touch. A judge needs some kind of worldly lens to understand how Due Process and Equal Protection matters play out. The realization that pretending to drown a prisoner is torturous and therefore cruel or unusual shouldn’t be controversial. Freedom and privacy aren’t just abstract concepts–one needs a bit of life experience to understand and apply them. And all of these things require empathy!

There’s a legitimacy matter as well. Just as you would want a diverse court to be making decisions affecting a diverse populace, you want a populace to believe that that court understands their feelings or plight. If the court mocks a woman for getting pregnant or if justices had laughed and taunted Al Gore for losing Florida, there’d be big problems. Surely, empathy plays a legitimacy role in less exaggerated circumstances too.

Ultimately though, this manufactured “empathy” controversy is irrelevant. Unless Obama does something really stupid, the whole course is pretty predictable: a Democrat will be nominated tomorrow, conservatives will bitch and send out fund raising letters, the nominee will eventually be confirmed, and the makeup of the court will stay largely the same.

Posted in SCOTUS | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Other War

Posted by Eric on May 24, 2009

DEAOn the eve of Memorial Day, we should reflect upon the sacrifice of the brave men and women who have lost their lives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in wars past. But let us also not forget the many casualties that have befallen a war we have been waging since 1971.

In the latest issue of Foreign Policy, Moisés Naím quotes a U.S. senator as saying, “Most of my colleagues know that the war on drugs is bankrupt, but for many of us, supporting any form of decriminalization of drugs has long been politically suicidal.” While I am curious to know who the senator is, I suppose no answer would really surprise me; policymakers have long known that the drug war is unwinnable. Yet, billions more dollars will be wasted as law enforcement officers, military personnel, and civilians are killed because American political leaders are too weak-kneed to actually lead when it comes to sensible drug policy.

As the current economic downturn necessitates alternative sources to generate revenue, and as Mexican and Latin American drug violence spills over the American border, some drug war alternatives are at least being broached. Governor Schwarzenegger has floated the idea of marijuana legalization (and taxation) in California. Naím, in the FP article quoted above, also points to a recent Latin American study proposing middle ground alternatives to strict prohibition or legalization. Whatever course we choose, let’s not make the same mistakes. A lot more people will probably die as a continuation of our failed policies, but if enough people speak out, eventually someone will listen.

Posted in War on Drugs | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Are Unmanned Drones Counterproductive?

Posted by Eric on May 24, 2009

Yes.

“The militants say that if the Americans want to come and fight, they should fight them face to face,” says Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier who was once the top Pakistani official in FATA. Shah, a Pashtun himself, says the families of the drones’ victims are required under the tribal code to seek revenge, which makes them ideal recruits for militant leaders like Baitullah Mehsud, the Pashtun commander of the Pakistani Taliban. Mehsud, says Shah, “likes to boast that each drone attack brings him three or four suicide bombers.”

Critics of the drones ask if it makes sense for the U.S. to use them when every strike inflames Pakistani public opinion against a pro-U.S. government that is at the point of collapse. “If we wind up killing a whole bunch of al-Qaeda leaders and, at the same time, Pakistan implodes, that’s not a victory for us,” says David Kilcullen, a counterterrorism expert who played a key role in developing the surge strategy in Iraq. “It’s possible the political cost of these attacks exceeds the tactical gains.”

That’s from an article in TIME today. Read the whole thing, if you are interested. (You should be, it’s important!) I’ve been convinced for a while now that these type of airstrikes, which often carry high civilian casualty rates, turn populations against us and make the already difficult nature of COIN even harder to achieve. That the Obama administration has increased these operations is troubling.

Posted in COIN, Pakistan | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Shoot the Messenger, Before He Shoots You in the Face

Posted by gregoryholmes on May 24, 2009

This week we witnessed President Barack Obama on the defensive for the first time in his presidency.  The news cycle has, for the last couple of weeks, been dominated by Republican criticisms over torture, the closure of Guantánamo, and national security, culminating in the resounding defeat of the president’s request for $80 million in funding to transfer Guantánamo detainees to supermax prisons here in the States.

With the writing on the wall, Democrats on the Hill called in their big gun to end the debate and shift the discussion back in their direction.  President Obama and his team surveyed the field and placed a last minute speech on national security right before former Vice President Dick Cheney’s scheduled speech at the American Enterprise Institute.  The talking points of both sides in this debate over civil rights and national security are as old as democracy itself, but the important thing was that the public perception was that this was a debate between Obama and Cheney.

This is important because Obama’s approval ratings are still at 62% while Cheney’s disapproval ratings are at 57%.  And when the public perception of this debate is that it is between someone as trustworthy as Santa Claus and the self-styled “Prince of Darkness,” the perceived result of that debate is a foregone conclusion.

Now the Democrats can shift the public discussion back to their legislative agenda, and we owe it partly to the immense unpopularity of the spokesman for the Republicans, and partly to the shrewdness of the White House in picking the GOP spokesman for them.

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

DMCA: Draconian Copyright Policy

Posted by Eric on May 23, 2009

Ars technica reports on the MPA’s lawsuit with RealNetworks regarding whether or not Real’s DVD-copying software violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA):

Real has long argued during this case that its software merely enables DVD buyers to make legitimate copies of their legally purchased discs—this would theoretically fall under the fair use guidelines in US Copyright Law.

The case boils down to Real asserting that their product is protected by “fair use” while the MPAA argues that fair use provisions are irrelevant since the DMCA is legislation independent from other governing copyright laws.

It would be a nice and certainly unexpected surprise if the court rejects the MPAA’s case. The DMCA is a rather pernicious set of laws that, more or less, prevents even the process of bypassing any digital protections on copyrighted work. In Burkhart’s and McCourt’s book Digital Music Wars, the authors detail how the DMCA is so stringent that it makes it illegal to even “traffic” (i.e. share) any information that could lead to bypassing a copy protection. The law has had deleterious consequences in technological, academic, and artistic innovation and basically prevents anyone from doing anything. Ever.

The DMCA is bad public policy. But so long as Congress is on Hollywood’s and the record industry’s payroll, legislative correction seems unlikely. We can at least hope that the court will weaken some of the Act’s more onerious provisions, resulting in a welcome win for consumer’s rights.

Posted in intellectual property | 3 Comments »

Barack Obama: Storyteller

Posted by Eric on May 22, 2009

3004717988_06761377b7 Yesterday’s Obama-Cheney royal rumble continues to dominate media coverage. And what better manifestation of the Obama team’s storytelling skills than this engineered war-of-words? This White House doesn’t just control the narrative, they create it. When Senate Democrats rebuked Obama on Gitmo, the administration wasted no time in reshaping the debate. Every storybook hero needs a villain, so the White House gave him one. The lines were redrawn in the sand: the President on one side and a cantankerous, scowling, and deeply unpopular Dick Cheney on the other. Whose side would you choose?

In many ways this isn’t wholly different than what the Bush crew did before; their narrative pitted Dubya, the swaggering cowboy hero, against the foreign evildoers Saddam and Osama. The rest was clear enough: you need tough, all-American gunslingers to take on the bad guys, not wimpy, pontificating Defeatocrats. But when circumstances changed, the narrative no longer worked. Suddenly, the GOP was swept out of power as the Democrats were voted in.

And things could change again. But right now, the Republican Party’s image is effectively being shaped by the Democrats. As moderates flee the GOP and reasonable Republican voices are silenced, their party is  being dominated by an abundance of characters who should provide the Obama Administration with the ability to continually recast the role of villain as circumstances demand. Yesterday it was Limbaugh. Today it’s Cheney. Who will it be tomorrow? Boehner? McConnell? Palin?

I wonder how that “hip-hop makeover” is coming along.

Image borrowed from Flickr user Jmtimages under the Creative Commons license.

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Stock and Awe (Yuk, Yuk)

Posted by Eric on May 21, 2009

The New York Times points to Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration study on Jim Cramer’s stock picks from 2005 – 2007. Somewhat surprisingly, it appears as if Cramer beat major stock market indexes, sometimes by a considerable amount. The researchers note, however, that when adjusted for exposure to various “risk factors” the results were more mixed:

Over all, the study concludes, “while Cramer may be entertaining and mesmerizing to many of his viewers, his aggregate or average stock recommendations are neither extraordinarily good nor unusually bad.”

Make of that what you will. But really, this has just been an excuse to post this camp-tastic-blaxploitation-spoof:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Will the Real Democratic Socialists Please Stand Up

Posted by Eric on May 21, 2009

It appears as if we have an honest-to-goodness Michael Steele success story. The GOP chairmain has guided the RNC to a compromise over their hilarious proposal to refer to the Democratic Party as “the Democratic Socialist Party.” Instead of renaming the party, the Republicans will instead “condemn the Democrats’ march to socialism.”

But not everyone is laughing at the GOP’s antics. Like who? Well, for example, the actual Democratic Socialist Party of America and its national director Frank Llewllyn:

“It’s objectionable,” said Llewellyn, “because they’re giving socialism a bad name by associating it with the Democrats, who are the second-most capitalist party in the world. The election of this president, sadly, hasn’t changed that.”

Good stuff.

Posted in Michael Steele, Socialism | Leave a Comment »

Closin’ Gitmo a No Go

Posted by Eric on May 20, 2009

As you have undoubtedly heard, Senate Democrats are refusing to provide the eighty-million dollars necessary to carry out President Obama’s planned shuttering of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. Democrats are “afraid” that transferring suspects to detention centers within the US will somehow pose a security risk.  In other words, these politicians are skittish about a possible political backlash should the public somehow conflate transferring detainees with releasing detainees into the United States. Luckily, we have Sen. John McCain implying that he might consider transferring Gitmo prisoners to US facilities, depending on the circumstances! From CQ:

But McCain said the issue has been muddied by the public perception that the administration would release dangerous prisoners to walk the streets in U.S. neighborhoods. “Whether that’s accurate or inaccurate, that’s the impression that the American people have,” McCain said.

To be clear: that impression is inaccurate. John McCain knows it’s inaccurate. In fact, McCain has previously come out in favor of closing Guantánamo Bay. He’s willing to go back on that pledge now due to the mistaken understanding of some Americans. A mistaken understanding that McCain could help correct, but instead chose to inexcusably repeat.

Posted in Guantanamo | 3 Comments »