Saturday, February 28, 2009

There's a Status of Forces Agreement, you know

It bugs me how US debate about withdraw from Iraq and how long it should take, etc. ignores the fact that there's a binding agreement that dictates when US troops have to be out. Many proponents of a longer occupation seem to ignore the SOFA:
However, what Petraeus, Odierno, Ricks and (to a lesser degree) Sullivan seem to be ignoring is that certain Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) entered into by the US and Iraqi governments this past summer, which committed the US to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 (with an earlier timeline for removing troops from Iraq's cities). Further, their discussion of alternative timelines completely ignores the national referendum to be held on the SOFA in Iraq in July of this year (the referendum is thought to have been required by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who insisted that the SOFA must have broad support to receive his ultimate blessing). If Iraqi voters reject the SOFA in the referendum, US forces would have a twelve month timeline for withdrawal starting from that date.

In general, Iraqi opinion at all levels seems to count for surprisingly little in our policy debates about Iraq. This should change. The whole point was to enable the Iraqis to control their country. Other posts on this here and here.

And what's with all the crap coming out of the Pentagon about how we might be there for years and years? Is Obama going to need to fire some people for insubordination? Obama said we're going to leave. The SOFA says we have to leave (and if it's not ratified by the Iraqis, we have to leave sooner). Obviously, the military should give their opinion on what the consequences of leaving would be, and give their opinion about whether they think we should leave or not. And if they disagree strongly enough, they could resign in protest (I wish more had done so under Bush.) But they don't get to decide whether we occupy a foreign country for years and years or not. That decision should be made by the president and congress (which should re-assert its constitutional authority to declare war).

Getting into those bad mortages and finding profit

I thought something like this would start happening. These two guys are buying up distressed mortgages and making money doing so:

Former hedge fund manager Raj Bhatia and mortgage broker Albert Behin are convinced they can make money buying "toxic assets" — the stuff that's killing banks' balance sheets.

Bhatia and Behin buy pools of mortgages that are "underwater," meaning the homes are worth much less than their mortgages.

"We got together and basically said, 'You know, there's going to be tremendous opportunities buying some of this residential debt that I basically helped create over the past six, seven, eight years,'" Behin says.


Apparently they drive around in a car and look at the houses on an individual basis and see what they could get the mortgage for, and how much the house is actually worth. Often, there's a big differential (because the owner of the mortgage is desperate to sell and there are so few buyers) and thus a chance to make some money.

Unfortunately, it would take an army of these guys to help get us out of the crisis. And many of the mortgages have been "securitized" and chopped up into "tranches" and turned into complex financial instruments of one kind or another. So it's unclear who to negotiate with to buy the mortgage. This stuff is going to take a long time to unwind. But I bet an army of individual mortgage buyers looking house by house is part of the solution. Maybe if these guys make a lot of money more people will do it, and the owners of the securities will figure out how to do business with them. Everyone's desperate for some kind of functioning market for this stuff to emerge.

(I think when that market does emerge, it's going to be very clear that a lot of banks are over their heads in big shitpile.)

Red States purchase more online porn than blue states

Here's the article. Here's a post about it. I'm not surprised that red states purchase more online porn compared to blue states. But maybe it isn't for the religious puritanical reasons one would expect. Maybe people in red states are just not as good about figuring out how to get their online porn for free.

A suggestion for Facebook

From comments on my status update:

Zachary is trying to develop an algorithm to help him choose between: status update, blog post, tweet, nobody wants to know about that.

AM: Why are you telling us this?

:)

ZD: Because that's what Facebook status updates are for! :) I think "Why are you telling us this?" is the question that may cause Facebook and Twitter to suddenly implode.

AM: Why can we now like status updates but can't dislike them? I want to disapprove of people's status updates.

ZD: Well, you'll just have to indicate your disapproval with a comment. Still, allowing one-click approval but requiring typed-out disapproval does tilt the landscape in a "niceness" direction.

Similarly, why does Facebook allow you to have friends, but not enemies? If you had enemies, then you could click on your enemies and see a list of their enemies. Then you could test out the proverb "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" by sending those people friend requests.

AM: OMG. That idea is made of win. Please suggest to facebook immediately. Also, I disapprove of this comment.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama says we're getting out of Iraq

At long last.

My worry is that those with a vested interest in keeping up the occupation will somehow convince people that "we can't leave". Of course we can leave. We just have to be willing to accept the consequences of leaving. I, for one, am willing to accept that our leaving may unleash more violence in Iraq. If we're not occupying the country, then violence in Iraq is a much less our problem. Certainly we need to support those trying to negotiate a viable political solution to the myriad problems there. But that "support" need not take the form of a military occupation.

I want I want I want! (custom Lego people business cards)

I will work for any corporation or entity in any capacity that gives a bunch of custom Lego people business cards that look like me. From Alexander Kjherulf via Dean Blackburn on Facebook.

Internal Monologue competition

I think this blog is suffering from competition from my other outlets of electronic expression. Back when I started Internal Monologue, it was the only outlet I had for wacky random thoughts or political grievances. Now, a lot of the brief thoughts come out as Facebook status updates, and the random Quinn stuff goes on Love and Survival with Fragile X. I even have a Twitter account, though I don't use it much.

Perhaps my unemployment will allow me more time to post here, though I find I don't have nearly as much time as I thought I would have. I'm spending a lot of time with Quinn, which is fun but tiring. I want to properly tackle the whole "covering Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley"" problem that excited me a while back.

Anyway, I think there's definitely still a place for Internal Monologue, but like all publications it will be affected by the proliferation of new media outlets. Today the newspapers, tomorrow the blogs. I'm sure someone's out there developing a medium for those who don't have the attention span to read a whole Tweet. Carried to it's logical conclusion, there should be a service called "Hey!" that simply simply sends the message "Hey!" to all your connections when you press a large button on your phone's touchscreen. No other messages would be possible, but I doubt that many users would find this limitation all that restrictive.

[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or typographical errors.]
--Zachary Drake

More Faireyization

Obama isn't getting it on banking crisis

From what I've been reading over the past few days, it seems like the Obama administration doesn't get it on the banking crisis. Here's Krugman:

[...]on the question of fixing the banks, many of us are feeling a growing sense of despair.

Obama and Geithner say the right things. But Simon Johnson nails it:

How long can you say, “we are being bold” when in fact you are not?

Obama and Geithner say things like,

If you underestimate the problem; if you do too little, too late; if you don’t move aggressively enough; if you are not open and honest in trying to assess the true cost of this; then you will face a deeper, long lasting crisis.

But what they’re actually doing is underestimating the problem, doing too little too late, and not being open and honest in trying to assess the true cost. The actual plan seems to be to keep the banks semi-alive by implicitly guaranteeing their liabilities and dribbling in money as necessary, all the while proclaiming that they’re adequately capitalized — and hope that things turn up. It’s Japan all over again.

And the result will probably be a deeper, long-lasting crisis.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

iPhone self-portraiture

I use the misnamed "darkroom" app (the free version) to take the
picture. It uses the iPhone accelerometers to wait until the camera is
steady before clicking the shutter, this avoiding some of the blur
that plagues much iPhone photography.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

3rd ad revenue payment coming!

Internal Monologue is about to generate its third payment of ad revenue for its author. Thanks to all my readers/people who stumble in randomly from search engines.

Question of the Day

How many people are killed every year trying to re-create the cover of Abbey Road? Question inspired by this video of people attempting to do so:


There's a live webcam of the crossing here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Reefer Polling

Nate Silver graphs some "legalize weed" polls:


I agree with him that this is one of those things that's going to take a while, but in a few decades I bet we're going to see some kind of decriminalization at the federal level. A lot of money and years of people's lives will be wasted in the meantime, though. Let's minimize the stupidity time as much as possible.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Can you survive only on bacon for 28 days?

This guy is trying to find out:

RiffTrax boss Michael J. Nelson is about to prove forever the health benefits of cured pork products. Or, he should be preparing his will.

The former Mystery Science Theater 3000 writer and performer has pledged to eat only bacon throughout February.

A long-time fan of salt and nitrates, the RiffTrax head writer chose the unique regimen because "several doubters on the RiffTrax staff had the unmitigated gall to insult bacon by making the outrageous claim that, as good as it is, no one could eat very much of it and live."

To avoid dehydration, Nelson will allow non-bacon fluids such as beer, wine, martinis and water. Along the way, Nelson's blog will feature bacon-related updates and possible estimates on heart attack dates and times.

Under the terms of a no-lose bet with RiffTrax co-star Bill Corbett, if Nelson should survive the month, he will receive a prize of five pounds of bacon. If he should not survive, Nelson gets a cremation that smells like your house at brunch time on Sunday morning.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Best Stimulus Idea Yet: Emergency Christmas!

"Warholization" has been replaced by "Faireyization"



Shepard Fairey is the guy who did that Obama poster that everyone is using and parodying. Above is a nice instance of the latter. Here's an example of Warholization. I really do think Warholization has been displaced by Faireyization, though people might end up calling it Obamaization (or Obamization-we don't like that vowel combo in that position too much) because most people don't know Fairey's name.




Friday, February 20, 2009

Who needs a spy satellite?

...when you have Google Earth:
A few days ago Dianne Feinstein got into a little bit of trouble for admitting in public that the U.S. drones used to attack terrorist bases in Pakistan are launched from within Pakistan itself. Since the Pakistani government officially opposes the American attacks, they were none too happy about this — and Feinstein later backtracked, saying that she was just repeating something that had been previously reported in the Washington Post.

The News, an English-language newspaper in Pakistan, decided to dig up the truth, so they went to the best source they could find: Google Earth.
Here are the pictures they found:

What are they? The Mother Jones article continues:

Most likely they're Predators armed with laser-guided Hellfire missiles:

The Google Earth image now suggests that the US began launching Predators from Shamsi — built by Arab sheiks for falconry trips — at least three years ago

....Damian Kemp, an aviation editor with Jane's Defence Weekly, said that the three drones in the image appeared to have wingspans of 48-50ft. “The wingspan of an MQ1 Predator A model is 55ft. On this basis it is possible that these are Predator-As,” he said. “They are certainly not RQ-4A Global Hawks (which have a wingspan of 116ft 2in).”

As you can see, the drones were kept outdoors in 2006, but now appear to be stored inside the newly built hangar shown in the bottom right of the 2009 photo. So that's that: it turns out that drones are being launched from Pakistan, just like Feinstein said. And our deepest military secrets? They're nothing compared to the power of Teh Google. You have been warned.


I wonder if governments, particularly our own, are going to try to start censoring Google Earth.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lounging in front of the baby Einstein video

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More rainbows!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Palin daughter not marrying the guy after all

Remember when the right-wingers were righteously cooing over Bristol Palin's decision to marry the father of her baby? Well, it turns out it might not be happening:

Bristol Palin said she is getting help from many members of her family with raising the infant while continuing her studies. She told Van Susteren she has no immediate plans to marry Levi Johnson, who she described as a 'hands on
Dad."

Emphasis added. Ta-Nehisi Coates has the proper reaction:

Where are those sanctimonious fucks, now? Where is the stigmatizing of Bristol Palin? Where is all their self-righteous howling? These people are not simply proud of being ignorant. They are proud of their arrogance. They are proud of their lack of self-awareness. They're proud of their fraudulence. This is real talk, for real families out there on the frontlines, doing the real hard work of child-rearing. These people want to balance your books, but they're steady bouncing checks the whole way.

UPDATE: Yeah, Frak just doesn't capture the insanity of all of this. Meanwhile commenter Buster offers a more useful frame:

I just wonder if it's not more helpful to frame it this way: Why don't these frauds extend the same decency to everyone that they are to Bristol Palin? Why are some people deserving of respect and others not? Who are those others?

The trouble is that I don't know that they've extended her any decency, as much as they know it isn't in their interest to stigmatize her. I don't think that have any more respect for her than anyone else. She's a prop to them.

California is in desperate need of budget reform

Here's the sort of insanity we're dealing with:
The Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing not that long ago where Caltrans director Will Kempton explained that 276 infrastructure projects are going to be suspended tomorrow to save $3.7 billion dollars and prevent the state from defaulting on its loans. But as John Myers of KQED Capitol Notes explained, even stopping the projects costs money:
Kempton: will cost $199 million to shut projects down, $192 million to restart them.

That's $391 million that Republicans are costing the state of California by their intransigence - and that's just one example. When one totals up the cost of borrowing to keep the state afloat, we're well into the billions of dollars. And that money is, you guessed it, going to have to be repaid by taxpayers.

I don't exactly know what to do here. I support a repeal of Prop 13, I support a constitutional amendment/revision so that a budget can be passed by a simple majority instead of a 2/3 majority. I don't know how else to stop this kind of stupidity.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reforming the filibuster

Interesting thoughts on reforming the filibuster. It shouldn't be so easy to mount a filibuster. It was never intended to be a way to routinely require 60 votes for all legislation in the senate. The senate is anti-democratic enough as it is.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rahm Emanuel : We were too bipartisan

This is excellent news. From the Wall Street Journal:
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel conceded President Barack Obama and his team lost control of the message for selling their massive stimulus bill last week, fixating on bipartisanship while Republicans were savaging the legislation.

[...]

Mr. Emanuel owned up to one mistake: message. What he called the outside game slipped away from the White House last week, when the president and others stressed bipartisanship rather than job creation as they moved toward passing the measure. White House officials allowed an insatiable desire in Washington for bipartisanship to cloud the economic message a point coming clear in a study being conducted on what went wrong and what went right with the package, he said.

But, he said, Washington should have learned something about Mr. Obama as well, with the shift from bipartisan overtures to outright mockery of his opposition.

He has an open hand, Mr. Emanuel said. But he has a very firm handshake.


Could it be that Obama is inching towards becoming the partisan ass-kicker we progressives long for? The Republicans seem to be giving him every incentive to do so. The administration seems to have learned a lesson here. They could have spared themselves the trouble if they had listened to the left-wing blogosphere. But maybe it's better this way: people will see that he reached out, and that Republican's weren't interested in supporting him. That's fine. They disagree. So let's get on with the business of fixing this country without trying to appease them.

Mandatory unpaid furlough

View of our office today from my chair looking back towards the entrance

My employer has placed everyone in the company on mandatory unpaid furlough for four weeks, and we are skeptical that we will ever be called back.

Since I was able to participate in the massive free money festival of the mid-to-late nineties at Microsoft, I suppose it is only fitting that I should also participate in the massive deflationary implosion of the late aughties.

The side benefit is that I'll have much more time to deal with all the other stuff going on in my life.

We will be fine. We have plenty of resources to get by, far more than the vast majority of people who are suffering in this downturn.

Now to figure out what I wish to do with myself...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Joaquin Phoenix being very spacey and weird and looking weird

What is going on here? Is he always like that? He's a good actor, at least in the few things I can remember him in (Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, the evil emperor in Gladiator). Was this an act or is he on some heavy drugs/medications?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Beautiful rainbow outside my office

It's already fading but I caught it:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

This will re-start consumer spending and save the world economy from total collapse

Vitter might get primaried by a porn star


Here's Stormy Daniels being interviewed on CNN. Howie Klein thinks she's being recruited by Tony Perkins, head of the right-wing Family Research Council. Presumably, this move is designed to call attention to Vitter's patronage of prostitutes. (Which shouldn't be illegal. And why is Vitter still in office but Elliot Spitzer was forced to resign? Is it OK for Republicans to pay for sex, as long as it's not with a member of the same sex?). Anyway, bringing up Vitter's foibles would presumably make Vitter more vulnerable to another Republican primary challenger. It would be awesome if Vitter and his "serious" challenger split the vote and Daniels ended up being the Republican candidate. But I doubt she'll actually run. I bet she'll stay undecided and milk the publicity for all it's worth. That's what I'd do.

Yes, this story is prurient and sensationalistic and given that the world is on the edge of utter economic catastrophe (deep, painful recession is the optimistic outcome), I should be blogging about more important things. But come on, a porn star running for senate as a Republican against David Vitter? How could Internal Monologue not bite?

By the way, I'm still angry that Vitter had his wife standing next to him during his confession to the media. That's lame. She didn't do anything wrong. She shouldn't have to suffer humiliation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama fails civil liberties test miserably

Obama is backing the Bush administration's invoking of the state secrets rule to prevent evidence of torture from coming to light. This is disgusting and disappointing. Greenwald:
What makes this particularly appalling and inexcusable is that Senate Democrats had long vehemently opposed the use of the "state secrets" privilege in exactly the way that the Bush administration used it in this case, even sponsoring legislation to limits its use and scope. Yet here is Obama, the very first chance he gets, invoking exactly this doctrine in its most expansive and abusive form to prevent torture victims even from having their day in court, on the ground that national security will be jeopardized if courts examine the Bush administration's rendition and torture programs -- even though (a) the rendition and torture programs have been written about extensively in the public record; (b) numerous other countries have investigated exactly these allegations; and (c) other countries have provided judicial forums in which these same victims could obtain relief.
Sullivan:

The Obama administration will continue the cover-up of the alleged torture of the British resident. The argument is that revealing the extent of the man's torture and abuse would reveal state secrets. No shit. This is a depressing sign that the Obama administration will protect the Bush-Cheney torture regime from the light of day. And with each decision to cover for their predecessors, the Obamaites become retroactively complicit in them.

So what are they hiding from us? Wouldn't you like to know?

Shame on you Obama. This is isn't what you campaigned on. We need more transparency, not continued government cover-up of torture. Beware what happened to Lyndon Johnson: he achieved titanic social reforms, but was brought down because he couldn't bring himself to discontinue the evils he inherited (in his case, the Vietnam war). In your effort to "look forward", beware you don't become an enabler of torture by covering up past abuses. And don't let Afghanistan lure you into another quagmire.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Thought of the moment

Why were the US missions to the moon called "Apollo"? Wasn't Apollo
more associated with the sun? Shouldn't they have been called
"Artemis"? Was that name already taken by something else? Or were they
just too macho to name the program after a goddess associated with
virginity?

[I sent this from my iPhone, so please excuse any excessive brevity or
typographical errors.]
--Zachary Drake

Please Don't Divorce Us

I'm a little late posting this, but if you haven't already seen it:


"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Yo congress, pass the damn stimulus already!

Dude, we are facing utter economic catastrophe on a world-wide scale. Here's an alarming job-loss graph. If anything, the current stimulus package is way too small to have the necessary effect. So when Republicans and "moderate" Democrats carp about this or that bit of spending, it really feels like the helmsman on the Titanic saying, "Do we really want to turn away from the iceberg that sharply? It might strain the rudder!"

And why are they cutting aid to states? Helping states not cut spending is one of the most stimulative possible ways to use Federal dollars.

And yo, Obama, I know you believe in all that bipartisan crap you spewed during the campaign. I was hoping it was just campaign bullshit, but I guess you really believed it. Well, unbelieve it now, please. It is far more important that you avoid Great Depression II than you prove to a bunch of Washington gasbags what an inclusive fuckin' guy you are. In less desperate circumstances, that might be OK. But when we're headed towards the cliff, you don't let your drunk, insane passanger share control of the steering wheel. Your rhetoric of the past couple days has shown that perhaps you understand this better now.

Digby has been awesome recently:
I know I'm a broken record, but the fact remains that the Democrats have to start actually running against Republican ideology and not just saying they'll be better Republicans or making promises to change the tone and the process. The people in this country don't understand that most of what Republicans say with such arrogant assurance is malignant, discredited bullshit. Why would they? Nobody ever challenges it on the merits.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

This article contains too many uncomfortable truths not to post

'This Is The Happiest Day Of My Life,' Lies Man Holding Baby


Actually, the day Quinn was born was one of the happiest days of my life. But the myth that being a parent is a parade of unrelenting joy definitely needs to be pierced.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Inventor of Playmobil passes away

Photo stolen brazenly from the New York Times

The inventor of Playmobil figures, Hans Beck, has passed away. I was always a Lego kid more than a Playmobil kid, but they do have a small place in the pantheon of my childhood imagination.

What's the matter with kids these days?

Here's one of those "God, students are stupid these days" laments from a college professor, Thomas Bertonneau: part I, part II, part III. (HT: Mad Latinist via email.)

My question when confronting these kinds of rants is always this: Are people actually getting dumber, or is it just that a lot more people are going to college now than before? If the latter is true, the average caliber of college student could drop precipitously, even though the population as a whole is getting more educated, not less. In the past, only a small fraction of people went to college, and they tended to come from wealthy and/or well-educated families. Now a lot of people go to college whose parents did not, and who did not come from "literary" backgrounds. In addition, talented students are perhaps more willing to sacrifice to attend a college more prestigious than Professor Bertonneau's than they were in days gone by. So maybe this professor is just seeing students lower on the intellectual totem pole than in the past, rather than witnessing a catastrophic collapse in humanity's intellectual capacity.

That being said, I have heard similar laments from just about every college level teacher I know, and most of them are quite liberal. (Bertonneau seems rather conservative in his mindset). And some of them have taught at very prestigious universities. So I don't think I can dismiss his observations out of hand. I'd be interested to hear what professors at places like Harvard and Yale have to say about long-term changes in student's writing skills. I think those places have become more academically selective over the past couple decades, so if their students' writing skills are heading into the crapper, then there's definitely something broader at work.

Here's my take: The average professor probably has an IQ of 130 (according to what my therapist said a while back). The average person has an IQ of 100. That's two standard deviations lower than the professor. So to the professor, a large portion of humanity is going to seem almost unbearably stupid. In the past, the professor didn't have to deal with them because they weren't showing up in class. But now they are. And there's nothing smart people hate more than having to deal with the intellects of not-smart people. Smart people of course deal with average people all the time in their day-to-day lives (though jobs, social circles, families, and spouses do tend to sort themselves by intellect). But smart people usually don't have to confront the way not-smart people think. Professor Bertonneau does not have that luxury. Hence the bitterness.

Another question: Are students getting dumber, or are they just getting more different from their professors? Is this a symptom of the ever-increasing speed of technologically driven change in our society? The old professor, unable to adapt to new modes of thought, condemns what is different as stupid, inferior, a throwback to pre-literacy. But maybe these students are very sharp in their own arenas of comfort and when discussing subjects that actually interest them. I like The Odyssey. But maybe his students find the subject matter boring and irrelevant. If they are more concerned with getting jobs, being cool, and finding love than with the differences and similarities between Homer and Virgil, is that really surprising?

Or is it just due to the fact that every year, Professor Bertonneau becomes another year older than his students? They don't age! They're still eighteen or nineteen. So as the professor grows older and wiser and more learned, by comparison the students seem younger and dumber and more ignorant.

And have we not seen Professor Bertonneau's rant turn up in every generation? Indeed, has any professor in the history of professors ever said, "I am so happy that the students of this generation are much smarter than my generation ever was! Thank God these young scholars have arrived to rescue our culture from the philistinism endemic in their elders!"? I have never read such a statement. Now it could be that we've been in constant intellectual decline as a species, so all those "kids these days" rants are true. But it could also be that the younger generations will always seem hopelessly obtuse to the members of the intellectual gerontocracy due to perceptual issues like those I've discussed above. I think it's clear which kind of explanation I tend to favor.

California court to hear Prop 8 challenge March 5th

In my inbox:

The California Supreme Court announced today that it will hear oral arguments on Thursday, March 5, 2009 in the Proposition 8 legal challenge.

On November 19, 2008, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the legal challenges to Proposition 8 and set an expedited schedule. Briefing in the case was completed on January 21, 2009.

The California Supreme Court must issue its decisions within 90 days of oral argument.

FAIL blog!


I'd heard of this vaguely, I think. But I hadn't actually browsed FAIL blog. For those of you not down with the latest Internet slang, I should inform you that "fail" is now a noun:
Of all the mutilations of the English language that have surfaced on the Internet, the abuse of the word "fail" would surely count as one of the very worst. The word "fail" was originally a verb, so grammatically correct use would be "I am worried that I am going to fail the test." However, users of the World of Warcraft forums have begun using it as a noun, referring to something as being "full of fail." This usage is entirely grammatically incorrect.

Why California is screwed

Ezra Klein sums it up pretty well:

California effectively has four branches of government: The governor, the legislature, the courts, and the ballot initiatives. And these last have ripped through our finances. The firms that build ballot initiatives aren't stupid: People like what they don't think they're paying for. Sparkly sidewalks are good. Sparkly sidewalks that require higher taxes are bad. And so most ballot initiatives pass without a revenue source. Which means they're paid for out of general revenues. Which means there is less money for everything else. The legislature cannot reject the initiatives, but both their bills and the ballot proposals are coming from the same pool of money. So the legislature returns after the elections and must now build a balanced budget -- including all the same programs, plus population growth, plus anything new -- without $600 million that used to fund education but is now allocated to more sparkles in the sidewalk.


And we're looking at a considerable sum that's out of their control. Last August, Mark Paul estimated that these programs were now equivalent to about 9% of the total general fund, "or about the total cost of all of today's state social service programs."


Then, of course, is the second problem: The legislature effectively can't raise revenues. Taxes require a 2/3rds majority and California's Republicans are mono-maniacally anti-tax. It is, after all, the only thing they can control. So essentially, California operates with a government that can't control either spending or revenues. It's not a good situation.


So I think the solution is some combination of:
  1. Reform the ballot initiative system so it's harder to get initiatives passed, or invalidate all unfunded ballot initiatives.
  2. Repeal Prop 13 (a ballot initiative!) that requires a 2/3 majority to raise taxes, and allows property taxes to get wildly out of synch with property values (but only in the direction that limits revenue).
  3. Abolish the 2/3 requirement to pass a budget.
  4. Defeat enough Republicans so that Democrats can get to 2/3 on their own.
  5. Reform the Republican party so that they aren't so hostile to raising revenue.

I understand that nobody likes taxes and that taxes that are too high can damage the economy. But current Republican orthodoxy is ALWAYS hostile to raising revenue. It doesn't matter if there are two wars or a massive budget shortfall, raising any kind of revenue is always anathema. This is not principle. This is lunacy.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Monks and Nuns 2.0: intentional religious communities

This is a very interesting article about well-educated young people who choose to avoid the achievement track and dedicate themselves to a life of poverty and helping the poor. While I don't agree with Catholic theology or sexual mores, I do admire these people for living a life that is very different from the one that was laid out for them. I think our culture needs more examples of how a successful life does not have to be one based on material achievement or social status, and that's what these people seem to be striving for.

I think I might be romanticizing the monastic life somewhat: lately my worldly one has seemed quite demanding, and there is an aspect of escapism to my interest in these folks. I think a few weeks without my family, privacy, affluence, and broadband access would see me scurrying back to my bourgeois lifestyle.