Thursday, July 25, 2013

We are better better than the assholes that kill are heroes, friends, and family members.

All of my NY cop friends are celebrating the death sentence of a murdering asshole, rather than the life of good cops. Everyone will call me a dirty fucking hippie, but we just can't move forward this way- from both a moral standpoint and a public policy standpoint. It's just a dead end. 


Rest in peace - James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews.

The "Greatest Generation" (and their offspring) Give Us "Tough Shit" Economics

People who know me will be unsurprised that I am pessimistic about this country's future. Looking at recent political developments has horribly depressed me. The Trayvon Martin verdict. Some truly pernicious Supreme Court rulings (such as the VRA ruling). Some AWFUL new laws in North Carolina, Texas, and other states that have massively rolled back voting access and reproductive choice rights. Horrifying stuff. As these rulings and recent electoral victories affirm, Republicans, unlike Democrats, are either wise enough or shameless enough (or both) to take advantage of very small windows of opportunities to pass laws and norms that permanently entrench Republican interests. God willing, my side, who is supposed to be so invested in the welfare of their citizenry, were willing to do the same.

However, those people intimately familiar with me also know I'm surprisingly optimistic about today's youngsters (teens-25s). This despite having personally experienced some extraordinarily flabbergasting  interactions with teens and tweens as both a professor and as substitute teacher in K-12...

Why the contradiction?

A) Because the attitudinal studies on the youngest generation are massively encouraging.  They are the most racially and culturally tolerant generation this country has EVER seen (compared to similarly aged cohort groups). They are less prone to commit crimes, more environmentally-sensitive, less likely to abuse drugs, less likely to get pregnant in their teens, more likely to vote, more likely to seek higher education, more likely to travel abroad, and less likely to smoke cigarettes than almost any generation in American history. And yet, magazine article after magazine article will decry this so-called "entitlement generation". For an example of the cowards, idiots, and hacks who write such articles, check out this search result. But these narratives are not only tired and repetitive, they are utterly bogus. If you want to know why millennials 1) live at home with their parents and 2) expect well-paying, meaningful (i.e. not coffee-fetching) jobs, the answer is pretty fucking simple. Because they went over $100,000 into debt paying for college only to graduate into a shitty economy with no job prospects. That's it. That's the fucking reason. It's not because they are lazy. It's not because they want to live with mom and dad (trust me, we may love you, but we really don't want to live with you). It's not because we want to spend all of our time smoking pot and playing the Nintendo Wii. It's because no company is going to hire a new college graduate for $35,000 (which is what these kids need to start re-paying college loans), when they can get the same quality candidate with 8 years of specialized experience at $36,000.

B) So why am I so pessimistic about the future? Well, one thing I've become convinced about is that the current ruling class in American economic and social policy is the first generation that is actively rooting for the next generation to fail. Yes, even there own children. Believe it. I attribute this to one of the psychological offsets of being described as the "Greatest Generation". The "Baby Boomers" are equally culpable (perhaps more so), because, as we know, the "Boomers" were the entitled inheritors of the "Greatest" title. These "Baby Generations", as I will call them, have grown entitled to the point of sociopathy. They are the birthers of "Tough Shit" economics.

The 1972 Dolphins are uniquely loathed in football circles because they are obnoxiously protective of the one and only undefeated NFL season. Every year, a group of unknowingly lucky, over-privileged nitwits crack open a bottle of champagne when the last remaining undefeated professional football team loses their first game. It is as pathetic as you can imagine. But that's the sports equivalent of today's "Baby Generation". They are actively rooting against youngsters, including their very own children, in some kind desperate (but, to be fair, subconscious) generational attempt to preserve their own generational legitimacy as the "Greatest.

To wit:

The "Baby Generation" went to college either a) for free or b) subsidized to the equivalency of being free (say $10,000 for a four year education in 2013 dollars). Today's college graduates, or at least those not subsidized by their wealthy parents, graduate with debt over $100,000. The "Baby Generation" reaction? Tough Shit.

Today's younger generation pays 400% more in health care premiums than the "Baby Generation". Baby Generation reaction? Tough shit.

Want the same Social Security benefits as today's retirees? Tough shit.
The same Medicare/Medicaid rates? Tough shit.

Want military drafts that expose the non-rich and rich alike to patriotic service during war times? Tough shit.

Income mobility between generation and classes is the lowest since the Gilded Age. Tough shit.

Today's younger generation is almost never eligible to join the unions that enabled higher wages, less hours, and greater on-the-job safety. Tough shit.
 This is "Tough Shit" economics and it's extremely pernicious and self-fulfilling. If the Baby Generations want to pretend they are all hard-working "captains of industry" while they rest of us are free-loading parasites, they are free to do-so in their own time. Unfortunately, these same assholes are the people who control all the money and thus, by extension, all the levers of political power. They are actually empowered to make sure the youngest generation doesn't succeed. And many of these politicians and business leaders can get off making sure that the next generation just doesn't succeed. They gleefully pull up the ladder after they climbed over our shoulders to breach the wall. And this is the source of my pessimism. This country (and others) have often been run by people who either a) power-mad and uninterested in the interests of future generations or b) utterly devoid of the intelligence necessary to create a better future. We have survived such cretins. However, this is the first time in American history I feel like I've seen political leaders utterly invested in the failure of future generations - if only to preserve their own place in American history (pointless and forgettable as that position may be).* This is a new and dangerous animal that I am extremely afraid of.

But where? Where does such animosity come from? What could cause such obnoxious behavior? It's actually simple enough. Yes, it's partly the inherent entitlement associated with being told "you're the 'greatest'" over and over again. But its also because few things in this world give us more pleasure than to turn to the next poor schmuck and to tell them, "TOUGH SHIT." It's what makes us better than everyone else. Or at least, it certainly convinces us that it does.

* [There is always the possibility that a generation of truly venal and sadistic political rulers are actually TOO STUPID to pursue the correct and necessary economic policies needed to punish future generations. And for this slim scenario, hope springs eternal).

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No both sides don't do it!

While Republicans think of ways they can legally steal Presidential elections and Congressional majorities using the gerrymander and rigging the electoral college, Democrats continue to play an entirely different kind of game. I'm not sure what game exactly, but it's different. Republicans are playing rugby and Democrats are playing badminton I guess. Now, badminton is a fun, honorable, gentlemen's pursuit. But ultimately, badminton players get the shit beat out of them by rugby players.

Take for example, South Carolina and Massachusetts. The Senator from South Carolina, a red state, steps down from office and the Republican governor of that red state appoints a Tea Party ideologue who will, given the incumbency and name recognition advantages of the office, cruise to re-election when his special term is up.

In Massachusetts, a blue state, the senior Senator is confirmed to become the next Secretary of State. The blue state governor of that very blue state does NOT, of course, replace that senator with a well known Congressman who plans to run in the next election for that vacated seat. Now, this Congressmen needs all the help he can get, because he will most likely be facing a well funded, well-liked Republican candidate who has demonstrated electoral success before. No, the Democratic governor of that very blue state instead requires that all appointments would, to be considered, need to refuse to run for the special election to fill that seat. And he makes a temporary appointment to a former chief-of-staff who agrees not to run.

Now, please, tell me again how "both sides do it". Please tell me that. God how I wish "both sides did it". Well, actually I wished we lived in this magical political bubble where all politicians acted in a consistently noble and honorable manner. Really, I do! It would be wonderful! But what did James Madison say? "If all men were angels, no government would be necessary" - Federalist #51. Yeah, men aren't angels. Nor should we expect them to behave as such, politicians or otherwise. So since we can't expect the Republicans to act like angels, can we at least expect Democrats to act-in-kind? I can't tell you how annoying it is to hear my fellow Democrats whine about Republican behavior. By God, we should be doing the same fucking things! I mean, the media will accuse us of the same dirty games anyway! It's always a "both-sides do it" story. So why shouldn't we be doing it? Why must we consistently put ourselves behind the 8-ball in terms of electoral and procedural effectiveness?

As Democrats, we like to say we put good governance above all else. That we are devoted to civil equality. To improving economic opportunity. To protecting the poor and the weak and the downtrodden. That we are vanguards of environmental justice. And so on. But a lot of the time, it's bullshit. In fact, we're more vested in the protection of our own facades of justice and nobility. It's why we Democrats elevate process over policies and, quite frankly, its pathetic. It's why Harry Reid brags about his bipartisan efforts to preserve the filibuster. Do you know what the filibuster has prevented through the years?  A healthcare plan with a public option. Cap and trade legislation on carbon dioxide emissions. If you were really interested in the stewardship of our environment, and the protection of our national health, you would take the electoral and procedural steps necessary to achieve those aims. But we're just not as vested in those aims as we claim to be. We'd rather lose nobly. And I say nuts to that.

I mean, Jesus Deval Patrick, do we have to go through this crap again? You couldn't appoint Ed Markey to the seat? Do you really think the appointment of a Democrat to a Democratic seat in a Democratic state is really so unseemly? Do you think Nikki Haley is worried about that shit? Do you think the next Washington Post headline will read, "Deval Patrick corrects 100 years of journalistic mischaracterization! Turns out both sides don't do it!"  Because I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you. But, ya know, I'm sure you'll win an extra seven votes or so for acting so nobly this time. And if it costs us a Senate seat, so be it I suppose. Priorities, right?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tim Geithner, still treading water

Just in case you forgot, Tim Geithner is still full of shit. Here he is complaining about his critics in a recent New York magazine interview:

“This is a deeply complicated world, in a fog of gray and ambiguity,” he says. “It’s easier for people to absorb the simple narrative of the black and white. And for them the black and white is, ‘Those are the people that got us in the mess; you saved them and they paid themselves billions in bonuses, and they should have gone to jail, and they are still walking around.’ I don’t know anything powerful enough to overwhelm that simple narrative.”

 Italics mine. So what is Geithner's response to this trenchant criticism that has plagued his tenure? This consistent, but "simple" critique that he has been given years to formulate a sophisticated response to? Well, uh, he literally DOES NOT HAVE ONE. He says he doesn't know "anything powerful enough to overwhelm that simple narrative." Well Tim, you're in the middle of a one-on-one interview. You are being given an exclusive opportunity to make your argument here. Why don't you use this very specific time with a nationally-renowned journalist to make your case directly to the American public? No? You got nothing? You're full of shit? Very well then. Move along folks. Nothing to see here.

[For the record, I was in favor of some kind of bank bailout. You can't cut off your nose to spite your face, and I wasn't willing to let the American economy fall into the abyss just so I could punish a few bankers. However, the structure of the bailout was abysmal. The bailout should have a) taken steps to reduce moral hazard in the future and prevent the "too-big-to-fail" phenomenon b) relieved homeowners of mortgage debt on a $1 to $1 basis for every buck given to the bankers c) taken substantial steps to prevent the use of the money to be paid as bonuses to management and d) required the firing of management and the replacement of the board of directors upon condition of accepting bailout funds. Since the bailout did NONE of those things, and Geithner was the face of opposition to those conditions, I say good riddance to bad rubbish.]

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Senators - Stay where you are!

I enjoy reading books by people like Daniel Kahneman and Daniel Gilbert who like to make the point that, in short a) people don't really understand how their own brains work (Kahneman) and b) people do a very poor job of predicting what will make themselves happy (Gilbert). Gilbert goes on to demonstrate that while we can make excellent guesses at what makes "people" in the abstract happy, we do a terrible job in our own personal lives. We just can't seem to predict our own future levels of happiness.

I read a lot of these types of books both to better understand my own mind and overcome my own inherent biases (Kahneman-stuff), but also in an effort to construct and promote public policies that increase overall "happiness," rather than more traditional measures of social success like GDP or HHI (Gilbert-stuff). I also, I admit, use these types of books as a more socially-acceptable form of self-help, as pointed out to me (not to my entire surprise), in an excellent series of articles in the current January "Self-Help" edition of New York magazine.

This is a rather lengthy introduction to the fact that I read today that Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, is stepping down from his post. Salazar's resignation comes on the heels of other high-profile Cabinet resignations such as Hillary Clinton (State), Leon Panetta (Defense), Hilda Solis (Labor), Lisa Jackson (EPA) and wanker-extraordinaire Tim Geithner (sorry, couldn't resist. This is my blog after all). We may see Ray LaHood go too, who is actually very good (for a Republican, har-har).

Now, I don't really mind seeing Salazar go. He was a so-so Secretary of the Interior and I wouldn't mind seeing someone at the Interior who wasn't so tight with the oil and mining interests. We did elect a Democratic president after-all. Again. But what's apparent to me, and not at-all apparent to the candidates who aspire to these positions, is that these jobs suck. Name a Cabinet position. It sucks. Generally speaking, 50-75% of a President's Cabinet usually turns over between the first and second terms. Chew on that! These people are just chomping on the bit to get the hell out of there. And yet, we see U.S. Senator and state Governors lining up to fill these positions. These are people who, under normal conditions, either need to be term-limited (Governors) or dragged out of office kicking and screaming (Senators). It's your John Kerry's and Janet Napolitano's. And even worse, when the President nominates these people, a power vacuum is created in their open posts that are often filled by the opposition party. And for what? Two years from now, John Kerry is going to hate his job. Okay, maybe John Kerry won't...But Chuck Hagel will. I'm sure former governor Kathleen Sebelius (Health) already does. The reality is, Senators and Governors have a lot more personal-decision-making authority in their previous positions. In the Executive Branch, they are really just elaborate enforcers. And from time-to-time, (perhaps most of the time), they will be tasked to enforce legislation or executive provisos they don't even agree with. That is not a formula for personal workplace satisfaction. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

If I may give a recommendation to my friends in the U.S. Senate or state Governor's office - turn down these positions! [Editor's note - I am assuming the vast majority of my readership is US Senate-level or higher] Honestly, turn them down. You clearly enjoy your Senate seat. You clearly enjoy the Governor's mansion. Why are you trading that in for a job you will despise in a few years? Do you think you're the exception? You're not. And the abandonment of your position is usually a net-loss of the incumbent party. Take Democrats. Would this country be better off with John Kerry in the Senate over Scott Brown? Yes. Would this country be better off with Janet Napolitano in Arizona over Jan Brewer? HELL YES.

Listen, I know you're not going to listen to me. Everyone thinks they know what's best for themselves. Everyone thinks they can predict their own anticipated levels of happiness. But the fact is, we're pretty terrible at it. Look at the turnover in this Cabinet. Look at the turnover in the Cabinet historically. There is a pretty good case to be made that you'd be better off staying where you are. You clearly enjoy the position, otherwise you wouldn't waste four hours a day fundraising just to keep it.

So please, let the career bureaucrats take those illustrious, high-paying, unaccountable positions. You know. Faceless bureaucrats like myself. Thank you and good day.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 - Top Ten Movies (Honorable Mention)

Well, I think if I wait to see Zero Dark Thirty, I'll never get around to my Top Ten Movie List, so I'm just going to roll with what I've seen so far. And I'll start with the Honorable Mentions.

While I'm here, I'd like to point out an interesting development in the mainstream film industry. In the past, the major studios would dump their worst, most pointless, most disappointing movies during the winter months of January-March. I always thought this was bad practice. I mean, what else are people going to do during the winter months? Going to the movies strikes me as a decent winter activity. I always suspected that releasing decent movies with broad appeal during the barren winter months could do extremely well. There is a not insignificant portion of the population (cough, cough, me) that, ya know, likes going to movies! We go the movies as a matter of routine. But we won't go if you are only releasing the most egregious crap dredged from the bottom-of-the-barrel. So these winter months always struck me as a marketing opportunity. I'm not sure if it's accidental or not, but Hollywood seems to have gotten the message. Taken probably started the trend and interesting, well-acted movies like Safe House continued it. There are dollars to be made at the box office during this season. As evidence, look at the upcoming slate of January-March releases.

  • Gangster Squad - Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn
  • Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters - Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton
  • A Good Day to Die Hard - Bruce Willis
  • Jack the Giant Slayer - Ewan McGregor (Director Brian Singer)
  • Oz The Great and Powerful - James Franco, Mila Kunis (Director Sam Raimi)
These strike me as movies with a solid pedigree and decent box-office potential. [Important Editor's Note - I probably won't see any of these] Now, to some extent, I'm sure some of them are being unceremoniously dumped into the winter months because of a disappointing finished product. For example, I seem to recall Hansel & Gretel getting some buzz about a year ago during the briefly-lived Jeremy Renner era, but the current trailer looks awful. But I think releasing Die Hard in February is an excellent decision. It's a significantly faded brand, but a lot of people will probably go to see it because it's competing against some terrible shit. Die Hard in February is an event. Die Hard during the summer gets buried in the shuffle.

Onto the honorable mentions. First Up -

Django Unchained

Definitely my most surprising Honorable Mention. Going into the movie, I would have bet $1,000 that Django would have cracked my Top Ten list. And it's entirely possible it may crack my Top Ten list one day in the future. I hold Inglorious Basterds in infinitely higher esteem today then I did the night I saw it in the theaters. But Django disappointed me in a few ways. 

One, the main character was perhaps only the third or fourth most compelling character in the film. That's a problem. The good guy protagonist doesn't always need to carry the movie. Antagonists can do that (see Heath Ledger, the Joker). But he needs to be more compelling than his sidekick. In this film, Christoph Waltz gets the better of Jamie Foxx in every way. That's not really Foxx's fault. But as written, Waltz's Dr. King Schultz is just an inherently more interesting character - he gets the punchlines and moral cleanliness that probably, in a more traditional narrative, would be reserved for the villain and the hero respectively. 

Django also lacked the dialogue-driven humor and quiet suspense that powered QT's greatest films and most memorable scenes. Barring one awesomely hilarious scene poking fun at an impromptu KKK iteration, nothing in Django compares to the Michael Fassbender scene in Basterds, any of the Uma Thurman-David Carradine scenes in Kill Bill vol. 2, the Lucy Liu introduction in Kill Bill vol. 1, or pretty much anything in Pulp Fiction

Uncharacteristically, I thought the music in Django was awful. The inconsistency between musical genres from one scene to the next drove this viewer to distraction and threatened the movie's connective thread. Generally, I enjoy QT's eclectic musical choices and many of the most iconic QT scenes are driven by his musical selections (Stuck in the Middle With You, Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon, Battle Without Honor or Humanity). But man, there was no connecting thread across genres in this movie. It really threw me off from moment to moment. 

Lastly, as mentioned in other reviews, this movie could have ended about thirty minutes earlier. I don't mind long movies. When I pay $12 for a movie, I don't mind if I get three hours for my money. But there is no reason to set-up the ending for your movie, delay it for thirty minutes, and then deliver the same ending the audience expected. It's utterly pointless. 

However, I do award Django bonus points for creating the most likable German character in my cinematic viewing history (allowing for the possibility that a non-Nazi filmmaker has portrayed Germans positively in a movie I haven't seen). As a German-American, I'm used to (and not opposed) to seeing my antecedents predominantly depicted as history's greatest monsters (pre-Jimmy Carter). I can honestly say a core component of my political identity is a genuine fear of excessive national pride and patriotism. Having seen what Germans are capable of, I continually view tribalism as a extremely dangerous form of social identity, and I try to avoid it when possible. That being said, it was legitimately nice to see a positive German role model. Yes, he was a bounty hunter, but he also demonstrated a moral integrity that exceeded that of anyone else on the screen, including Django. As someone who is used to seeing Germans depicted poorly on-screen (again, I repeat, I have no problem with that. It is an important historical reminder, perhaps the most important historical reminder), this was a welcome development. It appears some of us are redeemable. Yay!

Monday, December 31, 2012

The world's worst negotiator

Nothing causes me more agita than watching the President negotiate with Republicans. It's like he's Walter from Fringe and he intentionally removed the part of his brain that deals with strategy and bargaining. If he strikes a "grand bargain" that doesn't include a permanent deal to raise the debt ceiling, then it's a Pyrrhic victory at best. The Republicans will just come back and extract the last pound of flesh when the debt ceiling needs to be raised. Is it really possible he doesn't understand this? It can't be right? He just really really really wants to strike a deal, just for the sake of striking a deal. God he really sucks sometimes.

Go over the god damn cliff already!


Looks like a deal may have been struck. And surprise, surprise it's awful. It also does nothing to reduce the deficit, which was supposed to be the most important crisis EVAH!

It remains to be seen whether the Teahadists decide, once again, to save Democrats from themselves by beating the bill back in the House. Right-wing insanity - ACTIVATE!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Third Way?

Since the fiscal cliff isn't actually real (it's a creation of an incompetent media who through ignorance or ill-intent push the framing that it is real), and I find going over the cliff to lead to better policy than anything being offered in a Grand Bargain by either party right now, I am hoping that we, for lack of a better phrase, go over the cliff. Human beings work with baselines and demonstrate a status quo bias. On January 1, 2013, a new baseline is established. And that baseline is a higher tax rate and a substantially reduced Pentagon budget. That's a baseline that is very advantageous for political reasons. The President doesn't seem to understand that, but the President is a negotiating idiot. Good at campaigns, terrible at negotiating.

This puts Speaker of the House John Boehner in a very tricky position. He really is screwed if we go over the cliff. He is also screwed if a deal is signed that does not have majority Republican support. However, I don't believe Boehner is in a position where he can offer ANY deal that a majority of Republicans would support. Other than the complete and utter disintegration of the federal government, no deal would prove to be satisfactory to the Tea-Partiers. The right wing has been taken over by lunatics who care not a wit about this country or its economy. They are ideologues who cannot be persuaded by reason, statistics, or comity. In short, they are hopeless and they will not vote for any deal, period. Remember, these are the same Republicans who refused to raise the debt ceiling under any conditions. Given these circumstances, most political pundits (including those I respect) seem to believe that Boehner and some moderate Republicans (they exist?) will need to forge a House compromise that will attract votes across the aisle (meaning moderate deficit-hawk Dems). In today's parliamentary style politics, this doesn't really happen anymore (I believe TARP in 2008 was the last occasion). The problem is, I find a bi-partisan compromise to be rather unlikely because I don't think Boehner would survive a speakership challenge within the Republican caucus if he brought that compromise to the floor for a vote. It would essentially end his speakerhood. The right-wing would go ape-shit and speaker-to-be Eric Cantor would rise in ascension. Why would Boehner take such a political risk? In short, he wouldn't. Forget the "for-the-good-of-the-country" nonsense. If we know anything about political actors, it's that they seldom, if ever, take steps that doom their political prospects. We all have an innate ability to rationalize our worst behavior, and politicians are no different. Boehner would willingly go over the cliff if it meant he kept his speakership. Ultimately, in his mind, the country is better off with John Boehner, Speaker of the House, then otherwise, even if it means a tax rate hike and massive spending cuts during a recession.

There is, however, a third option, one which I am a bit surprised has not yet been thrown out as a possibility by many political pundits. And that third option is the creation of a new caucus of moderate Republicans and Democrats (mostly Dems) who would forge a compromise on the "fiscal cliff," the upcoming debt ceiling, entitlement reform, and even (possibly) gun reform.

This would be a deal that would allow Boehner to keep his Speakership, allowing him to save both face and his political power. It would also clear the deck of the most pressing political agenda items. Now, don't get me wrong. I wouldn't like those compromises. But there is a very broad constituency of deficit hawks, entitlement reformers and tax-cutters in both parties. The executive branch as well. Not to mention the press. Good God, don't forget about the press. The press reaction would be orgiastic. The press demonstrates what I would describe as a radical centrism - the unwavering conviction that taxes must remain forever low, that defense spending must remain forever high (see the WaPo's embarrassing attack on Chuck Hagel) and that the poor and the elderly must sacrifice their social safety net. These preferences are idiomatic within the press corps. A new caucus of "centrist" Republicans and Democrats would be the greatest thing to happen the mainstream media in the history of modern American democracy. I'm not saying the newly created "Centrist" caucus would be enduring, but it would certainly be celebrated. John Boehner would be the patron saint of bipartisanship. Even if his speakership only lasted until the 2014 election, journalists would be writing paeans to Saint Boehner until the day I died. I guarantee you that. And who doesn't want to be the foci of epic poems and 600 page historic manuscripts. I know I want that and I all do is write this shitty blog.

Given the histrionic benefits of creating a centrist caucus, and the inevitability of a right-wing flank at some point in the Speaker's future, Boehner should really consider this option. Is the formation of a new party likely? Eh - Probably not. But I suspect the probability is not zero. In fact, if I was Boehner's staff and press team, I would be testing those waters. Hell, if I was the Obama administration (who embarrassingly seems to really believe in the necessity for a Grand Compromise), I would be floating trial balloons like mad. Will those trial balloons attract ire from the Tea-hadists? Of course. But they hate Boehner anyway. He really should be looking forward to the next phase of his career. And that phase just might be his tenure as the "Great Compromiser". Hell, more words have been written about lesser men.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I can't even imagine the racist rhetoric this morning's Newsday headline will bring. It's gotten to the point where I don't even have to read the article and its comment thread without getting depressed. They write themselves.

Don't get me wrong. I think Newsday has to run the story. And I don't think the title is particularly inflammatory. There is no other way to write it. But, ugh, I can only imagine what the xenophobic reaction will be. And since I DO enjoy casting aspersions on Newsday when appropriate, I would add that there is no doubt in my mind that Newsday's editors were probably licking their chops when they got this story. Because journalists are horrible people. Like bankers.

District to phase out Italian, replace with it Mandarin

Friday, December 7, 2012

Federal Marijuana Crackdown

I am starting to hear some rumblings that the Obama administration may call down the thunder on Colorado and Washington in regards to their decision to legalize marijuana in those states. BTW, they already have a track record of doing just that. I can't even begin to describe the despair I would experience upon discovering that the administration that didn't have the political will-power to investigate Bush-era torture practices or accusations of massive accounting and financial malfeasance would somehow have the political-will to waste billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of manpower busting potheads. The morality of that executive particular decision would be unforgivable. Especially considering our president is a self-admitted former pothead/habitual cocaine user. Sometimes I wonder how he sleeps at night.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

DIixonthewall Theme Song

Most of my readers probably ask themselves:

"Hmm, I wonder if my favorite blog, Dixonthewall, has an anthem or theme song?"

Why yes, yes we do! 
(hat tip Keith):

My environmentalism briefly defined

I like to think of myself as an environmentalist, but I don't think "real" environmentalists would agree with my self-characterization. I think my enthusiasm for strict open-space/preservation-oriented/non-invasive species environmentalism is tempered by my belief that nature, and our environment, is a hell of a lot more resilient than we give it credit for. I also think nature is meant to be enjoyed by man. Not in the Biblical sense [in the manner that man should feel free to rape and pillage the Earth for all of its worth], but in the sense that environmental protection should be pursued as a means to enhance human happiness, well-being and enjoyment. This means to me, in practice, that something like Lake Ronkonkoma should not be set aside as a natural relic to be divorced from human entertainment and enjoyment, but as an asset to be developed in a way that ensures human access - whether that means the establishment of bike and running trails around the border or if it means the building of a nearby pavilion and restaurant to serve as a congregation point for family meals and concerts. Don't get me wrong. If we bought up all of the surrounding lands around Lake Ronkonkoma and returned them to nature, it would make a wonderful nature preserve. But it would make a wonderful nature preserve at a massive taxpayer expense and that preserve would be enjoyed by me and about 300 other hiking enthusiasts on Long Island. I mean, thank you and all, but there are other options that more effectively maximize environmental preservation with social use.

As I mentioned previously, I believe nature is exceptionally more resilient than we give it credit for. (It's why, for instance, it is safe again to swim in Lake Ronkonkoma after decades of massive pollution). Some of my attitudes here are clearly shaped by my farming background. Farming, in many senses, is a daily battle waged by man using wit, engineering ingenuity, brute physical force, and chemical sorcery to bend nature to our whims (yes, we need all of those things!). And yet, despite these man-made advantages, nature will ultimately triumph. When one of us decides to stops farming, it does not take nature too long to reclaim the territory it had lost. What we discover is that nature finds a way - whether it's native and invasive weeds battling my tomato crop or it's squirrels and raccoons adapting to increased residential development and urbanization.

That's why I found this article today pretty cool. It talks about how birds took one of mankind's most cancerous, toxic creations (cigarettes!), and found an evolutionary, life-affirming use for them. That's pretty awesome and it's an interesting data point in my "nature finds a way" file.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Update: Gilgo Beach Investigation and Media Coverage Still Terrible

Another bang-up job by Newsday today -

NYPD: Lucius Crawford a possible person of interest in Gilgo Beach murders

If you read the story, you need to get about half-way through before they admit that this "person of interest" was in jail for a period overlapping some of the homicides. So yeah, if you ignore that esculpatory evidence, I guess he would be a "person of interest". 

I mean, I guess you could subscribe to the theory that there are multiple serial killers dumping bodies in the same spot over the same period, like the head of Homicide and the DA seem to believe, but most of us who live in the reality-based world realize that is most likely not the case. It's a shame that our entire Suffolk County law enforcement unit thinks otherwise:

Added [Suffolk County DA Tom] Spota: "Not one detective familiar with the facts of this case believes one person is responsible for these homicides."
If that statement about our homicide detectives is true (and I have no reason to think otherwise), it's not surprising why they haven't even come close to solving this case. Statements like that indicate that our DA is much more interested in being proven to be personally right about the case rather than actually solving the damn thing. And that is a very dangerous mind-set.

I guess Newsday has to cover this "update" since I do believe its important to keep the unsolved murder of ten or more people in the public consciousness. But they should have had the decency, or credibility, to admit the honest truth that there is no real new information there. But they are too lazy and/or greedy to actually do that.

UPDATE: Huh, no shit Sherlock...

Suffolk cops: Lucius Crawford doesn't appear to have 'any involvement' with Gilgo Beach murders

Top 10 Movies of 2012 - Forthcoming

I'd like to go to work soon on my Top Ten movies of 2012 (I have a list of 11 right now that will need to be whittled down), but I realize I'm missing too many movies to make an accurate list. Meaning, there are too many remaining movies to be released (The Hobbit, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained), and too many movies I haven't yet seen yet (Life of Pi, Brave, Ted, Wreck-It-Ralph), which have a legitimate shot to crack my top ten.

When I start to write these lists, I'm always surprised to remember how many good movies have been released in the past year. I saw a LOT of good movies this year - just like last year. However, I am confident in declaring this year to be the worst year for comedies in cinema history. The only comedy that will make my Top Ten list (probably) is 21 Jump Street. Yes, I am as surprised about that as you are.

But even though I am eager to get started on my list, I think I will wait until at least Django is released before I write my Top Ten list. It sounds strange, but I might be the only person who thinks Quentin Tarantino is underrated. His very worst movie (Reservoir Dogs) is only "good". [That train-wreck Death Proof never happened]. All of his other movies, including Jackie Brown, are fantastic. Inglorious Basterds, which I thought was average when I saw it in theaters, really gets better with time. And I think it made Michael Fassbender, who was brilliant in the movie's best scene.

True story, when I saw Inglorious Basterds in the movies, I fell asleep during that scene. What?!? I was tired!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Our Failed Media Experiment

So I am perusing Newsday this morning and I see an article entitled Boy Killed in Bus Crash Was in Illegal Bedroom. Well then! I think we can all agree that young boy deserved to die! Jeebus help me, I do not have the courage this morning to read the story and the comment threads that will follow. I can only imagine it's going to contain the vilest, most racist shit imaginable. And this is an entirely predictable reaction to a bogus, bullshit article written by the shitheads at Newsday. Assholes. Just eliminate the media altogether already.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A quick point about filibuster reform

I don't give a flying fuck if filibuster reform is good or bad for Democrats in the short term. It's bad for fucking democracy. Period. Majorities should be held accountable for their policies, good or bad. But we can't appropriately do that when the minority party can arbitrarily hold up any and all legislation, judicial appointments and executive branch nominations. Get rid of the fucking thing already. Enough is enough. Harry Reid, please God, pull the fucking trigger.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Can I make a recommendation?

I think I've mentioned to people before that if I ever went back to school to get my PhD, I would like to teach a class on the media. Primarily so I could tear it apart. I think the media experiment in this country has been a massive failure and, overall, the media has done as much to misinform the general populace as it has done to actually inform the general populace. In fact, with corporatization of the media, I don't think "informing the public" is even part of the mission statement anymore. And that's too bad. We can't have an informed democratic population when businesses are financially rewarded for misinformation. As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it". 

My criticism of the media aside, I think there is a massive communal advantage to daily or occasional reading of local newspapers/websites. I just started reading some of the Patch sites (for work reasons mostly) and I have to say, I think they do an excellent job of building a connection to the "community" that in many senses is lacking in these hyper-individualized times we are living in. Is there a lot of hard-hitting journalism on these sites? No, not really. Are a lot of the stories fluffy? Absolutely. But they are fluffy stories about your friends and neighbors. They are fluffy stories about fundraising and charitable drives. They contain information about town zoning board meetings and legislative discussions that are frequently unattended. They notify you about local concerts and children friendly events that normally go unnoticed. In short, they do a good job of covering the activities of volunteers, teachers, and politicians that normally go uncovered. While this type of media coverage may confer some incumbency advantages for local politicians, it also does a lot of good undermining the absurd notion that politicians and community activists are corrupt scoundrels out to line their own pockets. Because, for 95% of the local politicians I know, this is absolutely not the case.

What an outfit like Patch does is remind us that we belong to a community of neighbors, not just Facebook friends and Twitter followers. I am not one to bemoan technological advances. I think Facebook and Twitter have been a massive force for good, and my social capital is infinitely larger thanks to my enduring relationships with old work and grad school friends. But enduring friendships with old friends, technologically-based or otherwise, can get in the way of connecting with our immediate neighbors. I know I am guilty of this myself. As Robert Putnam would note in Bowling Alone, American levels of social capital are at all-time lows. And these low levels of social-capital have already doomed progress in places as advanced as Italy (see Making Democracy Work, also by Putnam). I dare say they are doing the same in the U.S. We need to take active steps to reverse these trends and unite our communities.

While I think Putnam overstated the beneficial advantages of social and fraternal clubs like the Elks Lodge, I think his overall point is well-taken. We need to foster means to create social and political capital if we want Americans to trust and believe in government again. And I think one strong way to do so is to read your hyper-local news outlets. I'm not just talking about Newsday and News 12 (which, honestly, I could take'em or leave'em). I'm talking about your Patch sites as well as your East Hampton Stars, your Suffolk Times, your Long Island Herald, etc. [The LI Press is an excellent investigative newspaper actually, but it hardly fits into my "building social capital model". I like the LI Press, but it does a better job of tearing our politicians down, rather than building them up. Which is fine! There is a need for that!]

But I really do think you can do yourself and your community a lot of good just by checking in with these outlets from time-to-time. I'm not saying you'll learn anything ground-breaking or life-altering, but it's an important reminder that you have neighbors that want to improve your local community. And who knows? Maybe you can take a moment to help those people? It's always nice to come across people who can help curb our own cynicism, even if it's temporary. God knows I need to from time to time...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

News Corp & My Yankees

I haven't entirely thought through the ramifications of this transaction yet, but let's just say I'm extraordinarily worried that the scumbag who sent the tweet below can potentially own 80% of the YES network.

In some ways, I respect Rupert Murdoch. He doesn't really hide the fact that he openly advocates for global policies that narrowly benefit himself and a small slice of fellow trillionaires. He's refreshingly honest about it actually. He doesn't see the need to maintain the fiction of the "wall of separation" between News Corp's executives and its editorial staff. They are one and the same.

However, I just get that icky feeling when I think of News Corp owning the YES Network. I know Murdoch isn't buying the Yankees per se, but by design, the network and the Yankees have been inexorably linked since the channel's inception. I had been led to understand that this partnership has been amazingly lucrative for the Yankees since the YES broadcast debut in 2002. So I guess I don't understand the Steinbrenners reason for selling. I don't believe they were experiencing any financial difficulties and they weren't dealing with the Madoff scandal like the NY Mets. So I'm not sure what's going on exactly. All I know is I am worried how this reduced revenue stream will affect Yankee spending decisions.

I understand outside criticism of Yankees spending habits (and I heartily embrace the Evil Empire moniker), but, personally, I love it. Some Yankees fans get personally offended by bad contracts, but they don't really bother me. It's not my money. What the fuck do I care? It's nice to be able to root for a team that can absorb multi-million dollar blunders like AJ Burnett, Carl Pavano, and Kevin Brown. But selling off the YES network to News Corp gives me pause. Will the Yankees be able to absorb bad contracts like Tex and ARod when we're not flush with YES money. I can't find the angle here.

Like I said, I haven't thought this all the way through yet. I just like writing dimwitted blog posts immediately after news is released in order to maximize google search results. Ka-ching!!! [Is what I would say if I had some kind of ad-revenue-generating model on my blog].

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Barack Obama is aware of all internet traditions

I hate to fall into fanboy worship (and I promise it won't happen too often), but it's kinda awesome how funny our President is...

President Barack Obama jokingly mimics U.S. Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney's "not impressed" look while greeting members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams in the Oval Office, Nov. 15, 2012. Steve Penny, USA Gymnastics President, and Savannah Vinsant laugh at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wye Oak - Civilian

I know there are six weeks left in the year, but this is probably my favorite song of 2012. I first heard it during The Walking Dead, then again tonight watching Safety Not Guaranteed (a top ten pick for 2012), and yet I still can't kick the idea that it should have been a song in Friday Night Lights. I don't know why I think that. I just picture a slow-mo with Aimee Teegarden...


When Republicans and libertarians (yes I know they are the same people) spend time bemoaning the "loss of freedom," I really wish they would spend more time complaining about bullshit like this. As Matt Yglesias frequently explains, NIMBYism is the real threat to entrepreneurship and capitalism in this country. And unfortunately, Republicans are just as guilty of NIMBYism as Democrats. Democrats usually express their NIMBYism in environmental terms while Republicans are more interested in protected vested, established industries or minimizing private nuisance through wealth. Trust me, you'll find a lot more Republicans in those ridiculously micro-managed gated communities than you'll find Democrats. Maybe Republicans aren't as freedom-loving as they suppose.

Persistent NIMBYism is why you get counties, towns and zoning boards micromanaging American business development. I see it at work all of the time and it really has to stop. When people express broad complaints about federal "over-regulation", what they are really expressing, without actually knowing it, is opposition to obscure requirements on sign frontage, curb cutouts and heights, stylistic preferences, that have local, not federal, origins. And the regulations can be insanely mundane and arbitrary (commenters are encouraged to link to their own examples in the reply thread). Towns and zoning boards are happy to tell prospective business what they can and cannot open, even going as far as picking preferences within industry groups (Burger King yes, McDonalds, no. Target yes, Walmart no). But the people who complain about burdensome regulations are still the very first people at Town board hearing complaining about traffic, or noise, or the height of hedgerows. It's regulation for me but not for thee.

These are the real barriers of entry in American business. And they are not caused by the "federal government" or Barack Hussein Obama. They are caused by the peccadillos of our loudest and most vocal neighbors and family members. People really need to understand that the role of government is not to protect them from every real and imagined slight. This might sound funny coming from someone who isn't outraged by Michael Bloomberg banning large sodas (I'd prefer "sin taxes" personally), but I do believe our elected officials must begin to show a willingness to stand up to the loud, vocal minority that wishes to shape his town, county, and state in his/her own perfect image. Trust me. Try to open a business one day. I know I would like to. But the people who make you jump through the most hoops are not the big bad "socialists" Obama, Reid, and Pelosi. It's your local friends and neighbors who don't want you to open a lakefront restaurant because it will attract "undesirables", create more traffic, block public views, and force Canadian geese to relocate to an adjacent frontage. It will also reduce their taxes, increase recreational options, improve lakeside access, employ new workers, drive up local wages, and increase destination shopping, but people just don't incorporate those benefits into their personal evaluation.

Believe me, I think there is a role for prudent and wise municipal planning. But I think we get carried away with the notion. Speaking for my local community, we have pushed too far on the "over-planning" end of the spectrum. I, like all good social engineers [lol], believe people need to be nudged in the policy directions we prefer - towards sustainable development, improved mass transit, healthy lifestyles, etc. The tax code, cultural norms and shaming are all ways to nudge individual behaviors in social optimal directions. Heavy-handed regulation, on the other hand, really does impose heavy costs on individual liberty and freedom. They need to be avoided when we have other valuable, less authoritarian tools to shape public behavior.

Friday, November 9, 2012

David Petraeus and Extramarital Sex

David Petraeus makes a pitch for some more play.
Today marks an unfortunate reminder that our country is utterly insane about sex. I am of course referring to the news that Gen. David Petraeus is resigning from his post as the Director of the CIA because of an extramarital affair. People, this is lunacy. Utter lunacy. What the fuck does one have to do with the other? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. By all accounts, Petraeus, an unconventional pick to head the CIA, was doing an outstanding job. Now we have to bring in the B-team - we need to undermine our country's strength and security because David Petraeus fucked someone who wasn't his wife. This is madness. If he were doing a shitty job, or if Republicans won the presidency and wanted to replace him, that would be fine. Elections have consequences and it would be well within Republican prerogative to do so [albeit unlikely since Petraeus is seen within Republican circles as a kind of God]. But to consider this a scandal worthy of a resignation is maddening. We need to keep good, effective people in important government positions. We can't kick them out because their personal lives threatened some kind of sociotropic moral code.  This puritanical nonsense is killing us...

Spiking the football

Today I'd like to post a series of links that have had a significant effect on me after the election. However, first I'd like to point out that before the first debate, Barack Obama had roughly a 2.2% lead over Mitt Romney if you looked at poll averages (my source is my boy Nate Silver at 538). Now that Florida has been tallied, Obama has a roughly 2.0% lead in the popular vote, with Washington still be counted. And I guess my point is, again, that debates just don't matter my friends (particularly a performance in a single debate). Eventually, the mythical "independent" voter comes home to their preferred candidate. Period. People just like to describe themselves as independent because a) it makes them seem wise, and temperate and considered or b) because they want politicians to kiss their asses and promise them things. Sarah Kliff did a series of interviews with "undecided voters" and by God there is no doubt who these people are going to vote for.

I would also like to point off that gaffes don't really matter either (at least primarily in a presidential contest), because let's be honest, I think Romney's 47% video had the greatest potential to be a "game-changer" and it absolutely wasn't. On the other hand, gaffes CLEARLY matter in Senate races, huh? I mean Akin getting slaughtered in Missouri? Mourdock losing Indiana? So, um, yeah, I think we discovered the so-called "third rail" in American politics and it's not Social Security, it's rape apology! Just look at this track record...

And a big "Yay for democracy!" thanks to gay marriage wins in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Additionally, a Constitutional ban to gay marriage in Minnesota was defeated. That 4-0 record in 2012 ends an 0-32 streak at the state level. That's real progress there. Special thanks to Andrew Cuomo by the way. I don't have a good theory why, since New York state wasn't the first state to legalize gay marriage, but New York state legalization seems to have proved a critical turning point in the gay marriage debate. Joe Biden deserves special credit for forcing the President's hand on this issue as well.

The most surprising result, for me personally, was the straight-up legalization of recreational marijuana-use in Colorado and Washington. On a historical basis, this was not too surprising to me. I think the curve of history is bending in that favor. However, straight legalization in 2012? Man, that surprised me. I was in Colorado for the initiative to legalize marijuana in 2006 and it didn't even get close. I think the ramifications of these marijuana votes are, in the words of our Vice President, a big fucking deal. We waste a lot of money and human talent enforcing, prosecuting, and locking up human beings for individual marijuana possession. It's utterly insane. I have no horse in this race, (I'm not pro-marijuana legalization so I can get high), so please believe me when I say the war on recreational marijuana-use is horrible public policy. Just awful really. Awful in financial costs. Awful in human costs. It's good to see the American people slowly but surely come to their senses on this issue.

Finally, as promised, two good links. One is Rachel Maddow explaining why the Republican party needs to come to its senses. Our democracy operates more effectively when we have two sane, sensible, and reasonable parties. Right now, we don't have that. Believe it or not, even I can acknowledge that Republicans have good ideas! They do! I work with Republicans on the local level who have both excellent ideas and who are dedicated to good, effective government (not a lot, but some lol). The best example of excellent public policy that derived from conservative think tanks is the trading of pollution credits. Trading pollution credits was amazingly effective in solving our acid rain crisis in the 70's and 80's. It's free-market friendly, incentivizes long-term environmental stewardship, and minimizes government interference and monitoring costs. That's a win all-around. In fact, it would be the best policy to confront global warming if Republicans, you know, would admit that global warming is real. Republicans are also dead-right when it comes to free-trade. I am a fierce trader. I am also in the Yglesian school of large-scale reductions in regulatory oversight at the local level. For the most part, current regulatory policy is designed to protect entrenched and politically connected businesses, not to encourage competition and enhance consumer experiences and outcomes. There is a lot of room for agreement between Democrats and Republicans there. Simplifying the tax code could be an area of agreement as well.

Anyway, here is the link I mentioned -

Here's the other link. It's a more uplifting link. I think this link is important because it's nice to remember from time to time that Barack Obama is a human being who is remarkably well-intended and takes his job and his role in history seriously. It's also important because its nice to see someone so successful admit that there was a time in his life where he wanted to affect "change," whatever that meant, but he had no idea how to do it, and no idea how to go about it. I find myself even older than he was in that story, and I can relate. I am still casting about, looking for small opportunities to change minds, affect electoral outcomes, and influence policy. Because I honestly and legitimately want to make peoples lives better. I want to make the lives better for people who agree with me and for the people who disagree with me. Honest to God, that's all I want to do. Right now I suck at it, and it drives me mad. It's depressing and despairing, and I frequently find myself casting about for better options, better opportunities, better mentors, better experiences. But Barack Obama sucked at it too. And now, slowly but surely, Barack Obama is changing the arc of history for the better. And maybe one day I can overcome my own personal failings and laziness and do the same.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The razor's edge

So it's election day and I am massively stressed out. Which is weird because I'm also somewhat convinced Obama is going to win. I don't know how I'd feel if I thought he was going to lose. Despondent maybe? Massively depressed?

Anyway, all comments on facebook or twitter are candidates to send me over the edge. It's not a nice place to exist. I already have some "de-friend" targets on facebook who probably won't make it through the day. Don't worry. If you're reading this blog right now, I don't think you're one of them.

Let me give an example of how emotionally unstable I am right now. (Warning: Massive Humblebrag Alert)

Sometimes at work, I interact with people who assume I will be running for office one day. Instead of telling them I can't run for office because I am a massive life fuckup (i.e. the truth), I tell them I can't run for office because I've never influenced anyone about anything, ever. To be truthful, I've never had a conversation with a person where they said to themselves at the end, "Wow - This person just made a very well-reasoned argument and I really need to re-evaluate my position on 'X'". It's never happened.

It's never happened mostly because I'm a massive asshole, but also because human beings (including myself) envelop themselves in a core set of beliefs that dictate their world attitudes. These attitudes are rarely, if ever, successfully challenged because they are governed by a lifetime of core experiences and influences. In fact, it would be silly if these attitudes were affected by, for example, my facebook rants.

However, as I mentioned previously, I have, on occasion, spoken with somewhat influential politicos who assume I'll be running for office one day. I must admit, I do reek of that ambition, despite the fact that my personal failings would warrant an entire chapter in the Encyclopedia of Mental Health. So instead of telling them the truth ("I suck"), I tell them that I can't run because I am the most unpersuasive human being on the planet. Any argument I've ever had is much more likely to harden the attitudes of the people on the other side, rather than move them towards my position. Let's put it this way, if debate teams had an "anti-matter", it would be me. If you want to win an argument, just put me on the other end of it.

Anyway, as I continue to explain to this person how unpersuasive I am, I usually try to lighten the mood by adding that I literally know only ONE person who seeks out my opinions on political matters. One person who I think I can influence.  One person IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD who respects my opinion and appreciates the thousands and thousands of hours I spend reading and writing about politics. One person who thinks I just might have something valuable to add to our political discourse.

And then that person sent me a text message this morning saying that he voted for Mitt Romney and I just started crying...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How some people will vote on Tuesday

Between the years 2000-2008, Republicans came to your house and burnt it to the ground. Four years later, Democrats have rebuilt your house to its former stature, but you are pissed off at them because they haven't gotten started on the second flood addition and the new backyard outdoor kitchen yet. To punish Democrats, you have decided to vote for the Republicans again because Mitt Romney has promised to finish those additions. But first, please trust him while he builds this little fire in the corner of your house. He promises it won't get out of control this time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

An era of new Star Wars films? Yes, please!

I just returned to the Internet today expecting to catch up on Hurricane Sandy twitter hashtags and facebook updates when lo and behold the most surprising news I could have ever expected in a million years (yes honestly) came to light - George Lucas has sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney and Disney plans on releasing a LOT of new Star Wars movies (one every two or three years). This is amazing news. I'm pretty much jumping out of my seat right now. I mean, I couldn't imagine a better fit. Yes, Disney makes some clunkers these days, but they also make some amazing movies, particularly the Marvel and Pixar divisions. You are telling me you don't trust those people with the Star Wars franchise? I do. Much more so than George Lucas himself, who, sadly, lost the feel for his own franchise decades ago. Who isn't excited about the possibility that we might be able to see a Joss Whedon directed Star Wars someday? Or Peter Jackson? Or Guillermo del Toro? Or Wes Anderson (okay, kidding about that one). This is joyous news.

I have to admit, there has been a massive, gaping hole in my heart since the last Star Wars movie was released. Anticipation of a new Star Wars world and a new set of movies has been intertwined with my childhood and my personal identity since I was a little kid. It didn't matter that the prequels were disappointing (they were). What mattered were the possibilities - the new storylines, the new adventures, the new characters. A massive piece of wonder and excitement died for me when that last movie ended. Not to get too dark (though remember this blog is "mostly fueled by anger and alcohol") but I really don't have a lot too look forward to in my life. It's the truth. Here's what I have to look forward to these days - new seasons of Game of Thrones and the next book in the George RR Martin series. If he can write it before he dies. That's it. That's what I had to look forward to. But now? Now, at least I have Star Wars again to look forward to. That's something. That's a start.

I think the most exciting opportunity a Disney/Star Wars collaboration permits is a Star Wars theme park. Like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Let me tell you, when this park opens, I will be there. This has to be a no-brainer for Disney right? [Wait, I wonder if I can get it built on Long Island?].

One thing I wonder about this collaboration is whether or not it allows Disney to relaunch the prequels. I am going to assume the answer is "Not while George Lucas is alive," but at some point I think re-launching the franchise around good actors, good dialogue, and "non-trade-war-related" plotlines is a must. The sad reality is, a lot of Star Wars fans are perfectly willing to pretend the prequels don't exist. So I don't see re-making those movies as a threat to canon. Most hard-core Star Wars fans ignore them anyway.

For now, Disney is (rightly) moving forward with chapters 7, 8, 9, so we can table the prequel discussion for now. The question is, what form should these sequels take? Alyssa Rosenberg, who writes for Think Progress and has read many of the books, has a smart take here. I have never read any of the Star Wars books (except for a stand alone book on the bounty hunters from Empire Strikes Back). Personally, I'm not sure Luke, Leia, or Han have a place in the new sequels. I think it might be time to bring in new characters and plotlines. God knows, the Star Wars world is rich enough. A clean break, with the new Disney team in place, might work best. I think it's massively important that the Pixar screenplay writers are brought into the Star Wars division. No studio has a better track record than Pixar (though Pixar-affiliated director Andrew Stanton swung and missed on the movie adaptation of John Carter, the book of which was a Star Wars antecedent).

I know some people are concerned about new Star Wars movies, having been disappointed by the prequels and arguing that they somehow taint Episodes 4-6. I can understand their skepticism. I mean, they probably think Disney, roll their eyes, and wait for a heavy dosage of children-friendly characters like (sigh) Jar Jar Binks. But to be honest, I just don't see that happening. There is no way that Jar Jar Binks (or his ilk) makes it through a Disney-run script read. Disney will certainly insist on child-friendly characters, but they'll do it a lot better than Lucas. And Disney clearly doesn't have a problem with edgy. I mean, Tony Stark anyone? Honestly, I am just not personally affronted like some people when a sub-par Star Wars movie is made. Even the shittier movies offer something new and exciting like the three best light saber fights ever! I can take them or leave them at my leisure.

In short, I am super excited for 2015 (the anticipated release date for the next Star Wars movie). This is like waking up and finding out Pearl Jam is going to make a Ten-inspired record. Or Radiohead is going back to it's Pablo Honey/The Bends roots. I couldn't have asked for better news. And really, you should get on-board too. I mean, at the very least we should get a kick-ass theme park out of this. Don't you want to take that ride with me?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Goodbye Islanders - Sort of.

As regional Long Islanders are well aware, recently Long Island lost its one and only professional sports franchise when the NY Islanders decided to relocate from Nassau County into Brooklyn. As you can imagine, I am both relieved and saddened by this development. Saddened because I, like all sentient human beings, take a perverse pride in rooting for my neighborhood sports franchise. And the Islanders really are (or were) the only major sports team to be based on Long Island. For readers outside of the NY metropolitan area, Long Island is customarily (though not geographically) assumed to be the counties of Nassau and Suffolk (I am a resident of the latter). The Islanders played in Nassau and both the County and the Town of Hempstead have been negotiating with Charles Wang, founder of Computer Associates and owner of the NY Islanders, on a new stadium for, well, I guess as long as I can remember - 10 years maybe? It certainly seems that long. At one point, it actually seemed like the Islanders were headed to Kansas City for sure (which would have been idiotic in the long-term but, as I've discovered, most of these franchise relocations are more influenced my hubris and personal pique than actual sound, financial planning). So it was with some relief to find out that the Islanders will be staying in New York, albeit further removed from my residence.

Ironically, though the Isles are moving further away from my home, I'm actually excited about the move, but not because Nassau Coliseum was some kind of decrepit shithole. It wasn't. Nassau Coliseum was a perfectly fine place to watch a live hockey game (which are massively improved in-person, more-so than any other sport). There really wasn't a bad seat in the house. But two things sucked about the Coliseum and both of these things are immediately remediated by the move to Brooklyn. One, there is nothing to do immediately in and around Nassau Coliseum. And no, I don't really count Hooters (which is turning into Bud's Ale House anyway). Two, there are no public transportation options to get to games. You have to drive to games which makes pre and post-gaming problematic. Now, with the move to Brooklyn, public transportation options are available (albeit, imperfect ones). That's a lot more convenient for me. And Brooklyn is an awesome place to hang out. So that's a massive upgrade there. I am very much looking forward to my first Isles experience at the Barclays Center.

However, I wanted to take this opportunity to once again bash owners who use their ownership of sports franchises as an opportunity to blackmail citizens, politicians, municipalities, and regional economic development teams for massive taxpayer-funded handouts for, what amounts to in essence, their extremely lucrative luxury items. I am a Islanders fan. I also, occasionally, find myself in a position where I can influence regional economic development. But there is no way I would have supported a taxpayer funded stadium for the Islanders in Suffolk County, even in (or especially in) the current economic climate. And Nassau was right not to either. Right now, there are a lot of fingers being pointed at Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray for allowing the Islanders to leave Nassau County. Bizarrely, few fingers were pointed at the citizens themselves who overwhelmingly voted down The Lighthouse Project voter referendum which would have redeveloped the area and constructed a new Isles stadium. And you know what - the citizens were right to vote down the proposal! Put simply, taxpayers shouldn't pay for stadiums. Period. See here. And here. And here. And here. And, well, I can do this forever.

“The basic idea is that sports stadiums typically aren’t a good tool for economic development,” said Victor Matheson, an economist at Holy Cross who has studied the economic impact of stadium construction for decades. When cities cite studies (often produced by parties with an interest in building the stadium) touting the impact of such projects, there is a simple rule for determining the actual return on investment, Matheson said: “Take whatever number the sports promoter says, take it and move the decimal one place to the left. Divide it by ten, and that’s a pretty good estimate of the actual economic impact.”
Building sports stadiums for billionaires is a suckers game and we should refuse to play. They are public handouts, pure and simple. I don't think corporate subsidies are all bad. Many of them are quite good actually. But tax and bond giveaways for sports stadiums are awful. Giveaways of this nature combine the worst components of a purely socialist system, a pure free market system and a purely oligarchy/corporatist system. It socializes the costs and risk at public expense while privatizing all of the profits. And these profits are funneled to a politically well-connected billionaire who wants free public money to sign and swap human beings like they are playing a real-life version of Baseball Stars.

Think of it this way. Let's say everyone's favorite asshole, Donald Trump, wants to build the world's largest, most luxurious yacht and he is going to dock this yacht at Chelsea Piers. He tells Mike Bloomberg that he will let the hoi polloi take guided tours at $25 a person on weekdays between 9a-5p. However, on nights and weekends, he retains ownership and he can take the yacht wherever he likes. He also gets a 6 month window at the end of summer to take the yacht around the world at his own leisure. Also, after ten years, he can permanently take the yacht to any other dock in the world and NYC gets nothing in return. He says he wants NYC to chip in $300 billion through a combination of cash, docking fee waivers, and tax breaks for this "tourist attraction." Trump also reserves the right to sell this yacht after ten years. Should NYC residents agree to fund this boondoggle? Of course not.

Or let's try a different fuckwit. Let's say conspiracy theorist Jack Welch wants to buy the Mona Lisa which he plans to exhibit in the Guggenheim Museum for three months in the fall and three months in the spring. Welch collects all Guggenheim entrance fees during that period. The rest of the time, he is free to exhibit the Mona Lisa around the country (of which he allowed to charge fees) or simply hang the Mona Lisa in his bathroom next to the shitter as he sees fit. He is also allowed to sell the Mona Lisa after fifteen years and he appropriates 100% of the subsequent value increase (which is pretty much guaranteed in an item of this nature). But he wants NYC to chip in half of its $768 million assessed value first. Should Mayor Mike agree to this deal? Of course not!

These might sound like absurd examples but they really aren't. These are the kind of deals sports owners demand and receive all of the time. And please keep this important point in mind - no major professional sports team in America, has ever, ever, been sold at a value lower than its purchase price. Professional sports teams might be the safest investment in world history, regardless of whether or not that franchise is running operating profits. Operating profits are really ancillary to a professional sports owners primary anticipation - which is to own and control the coolest, most amazing luxury item in the world. Ask yourselves - how much would you pay, out of pocket, to own and operate the NY Islanders? Or the Cleveland Browns? Or the Toronto Raptors? (intentionally picking terrible teams here). Hell, I'd take a $20,000 pay cut to own any one of those teams. So why should we give a shit if professional owners make any money on their franchises? The answer is, we shouldn't. Neither should we fall for the discredited argument that professional stadiums pay for themselves. Because they don't. Trust me, I wish it were so. I'd love to plant the Islanders in Ronkonkoma and watch my hometown blossom into the economic powerhouse I've always envisioned it to be. But the reality speaks differently. And as citizens, and decision-makers and policy analysts, we must acknowledge these realities. We just cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by rich bullies who don't give a shit about the municipalities they purport to adore.

So yes, in conclusion, I shall miss my Nassau-Suffolk Islanders. It was fun while it lasted. But I shall see them again someday. In Brooklyn. You know, when the world's most "unselfish" people agree to let them play hockey again...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Unilateral Disarmament

I think I may have touched on this topic before, but those readers familiar with my work know that I am not a fan of unilateral disarmament. Meaning things like, yes, I hate the fucking filibuster in the Senate, and I am a huge advocate of eliminating the filibuster altogether (none of the bullshit half-measures that have been proposed), BUT, if the Republicans re-take the Senate, the Democrats should not hesitate to use the filibuster at every given opportunity. Those are the rules of the game as they are currently written. So those are the rules we play by. When we change the rules, then we'll change our behavior. Not a second before that.

I bring this up in the context of Citizens United and Super-PAC money. I was reading this brief article on a debate between two candidates in a local state Senate race. The debate between these candidates, Democratic challenger Bridget Fleming and long-time Republican incumbent Ken LaValle, for some reason orbited around the influence of Super PAC money in the race. First let me point out that this is a pretty aggravating failure by the moderators since state senate candidates can't do ANYTHING about Citizens United or Super PAC influence. They just can't. We shouldn't be harping on this in a debate where time and access to the candidates is finite. I find it to be a massive failure of our media personalities when they continue to pepper candidates on policy issues they cannot possibly influence. We can't continue to give the public the impression that politicians can influence policies outside of their jurisdiction. These are the kinds of memes, when relentlessly (and falsely) perpetuated, ultimately undermine public confidence in government institutions. We come to expect specific politicians to fix all of our ills and inefficiencies when most politicians simply aren't empowered to enact the reforms we demand.

Anyway, what really grinds my gears in this article is actually a statement in the comment thread. Fleming, who rails against Super PAC influence in the debate, is accused of hypocrisy. I know, I shouldn't feed the trolls, but I just can't help myself:

True George, Ms. Fleming is noble. Although I am curious as to why she has been making so much hay about how evil Super PAC's are, yet she recently cashed $10,000 in checks from Super PAC's? Please explain, I'm sure there is a rational explanation - maybe she needs the money from evildoers to fight evil? Looks like a typical do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do situation. Very courageous indeed.
Let's be clear about something here. There is absolutely nothing (zero, zilch, nada) hypocritical about soliciting Super PAC money while railing against the Supreme Court decision that unleashed Super PAC contributions. The floodgates have been opened. Bridget Fleming cannot plug the dike by unilaterally refusing Super PAC contributions. Nor can any other candidate, Democrat or Republican. In fact, that type of religious purity would only have the opposite effect. It would continually reward the candidates that support the Citizens United decision and continually punish the candidates who oppose the decision.

Let me use a sports analogy to demonstrate. Many National League fans hate the Designated Hitter rule. No doubt, many National League Managers hate the Designated Hitter rule. However, the DH is here to stay, whether we like it or not. It would be pretty foolish (and indeed a fireable offense), if a National League manager refused to use a DH in an interleague game in an American League stadium. We don't expect, nor should we expect, the NL manager to send up his .154 hitting pitcher out of some misguided dedication to traditional baseball rules. The reality of the situation is that the game has changed. Like the 3-point line in basketball. Or the two-point conversion rule in football. We do not ignore rule changes because we do not agree with those rule changes. If we disagree with those rules, you need to fight to get a seat at the table so we can change the rules. We don't sit on the sidelines and whine and stomp our feet and say, "That's not fair!!!" We play the game by the rules as they are currently constructed. There is no hypocrisy here.  I repeat. There is no hypocrisy here!  It's merely an acceptance of reality. And any candidate who ignores these realities does so at their own political peril.