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!