Archive for January 10th, 2013
Excellent Paul Krugman column in the NY Times:
So, have you heard the one about the trillion-dollar coin? It may sound like a joke. But if we aren’t ready to mint that coin or take some equivalent action, the joke will be on us — and a very sick joke it will be, too.
Let’s talk for a minute about the vile absurdity of the debt-ceiling confrontation.
Under the Constitution, fiscal decisions rest with Congress, which passes laws specifying tax rates and establishing spending programs. If the revenue brought in by those legally established tax rates falls short of the costs of those legally established programs, the Treasury Department normally borrows the difference.
Lately, revenue has fallen far short of spending, mainly because of the depressed state of the economy. If you don’t like this, there’s a simple remedy: demand that Congress raise taxes or cut back on spending. And if you’re frustrated by Congress’s failure to act, well, democracy means that you can’t always get what you want.
Where does the debt ceiling fit into all this? Actually, it doesn’t. Since Congress already determines revenue and spending, and hence the amount the Treasury needs to borrow, we shouldn’t need another vote empowering that borrowing. But for historical reasons any increase in federal debt must be approved by yet another vote. And now Republicans in the House are threatening to deny that approval unless President Obama makes major policy concessions.
It’s crucial to understand three things about this situation. First, raising the debt ceiling wouldn’t grant the president any new powers; every dollar he spent would still have to be approved by Congress. Second, if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the president will be forced to break the law, one way or another; either he borrows funds in defiance of Congress, or he fails to spend money Congress has told him to spend.
Finally, just consider the vileness of that G.O.P. threat. If we were to hit the debt ceiling, the U.S. government would end up defaulting on many of its obligations. This would have disastrous effects on financial markets, the economy, and our standing in the world. Yet Republicans are threatening to trigger this disaster unless they get spending cuts that they weren’t able to enact through normal, Constitutional means.
Republicans go wild at this analogy, but it’s unavoidable. This is exactly like someone walking into a crowded room, announcing that he has a bomb strapped to his chest, and threatening to set that bomb off unless his demands are met.
Which brings us to the coin. . .
I have to admit that I admire Epicurus greatly, and fine the sort of false dichotomy presented by Gary Gutting in an otherwise intriguing column to be grating. Gutting writes, “What place does pleasure have in a good life? Should we, following Epicurus and John Stuart Mill, take maximal pleasure as our overriding goal? Or are there higher moral values that trump pleasure?” Gutting seems to overlook the obvious: that observing high moral values can be quite pleasurable. I don’t see any conflict between seeking maximal pleasure and living a moral life, as if moral living were somehow unpleasant. Gutting’s statement seems to reveal more about Gutting’s worldview than about Epicurus’s philosophy.
The rest of the column, though, is quite interesting, and the distinction he draws between joy and pleasure are interesting.
Some arguments are so wrong-headed that they can make one’s head explode. NPR’s Morning Edition provides such an argument from the NRA (the organization that believes that the cure for any problem is more guns):
Guns are piled inside a crate outside a police station in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday during a buyback. Tuesday marked the second anniversary of when a gunman opened fire on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she met with constituents in 2011, killing six people and leaving 12 others injured.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband, Mark Kelly, have formed a political action committee to support prevention of gun violence. The announcement came Tuesday, the second anniversary of the mass shooting in Tucson that left six dead and wounded 13, including Giffords.
Churches and fire stations around the city rang bells in memory of the victims and in commemoration of other mass shootings since Tucson.
The Tucson Police Department also held a gun buyback Tuesday. Police want to destroy the 206 firearms turned in to them. But the National Rifle Association says that would violate Arizona law.
A line of people with guns formed in front of the midtown Tucson police station well before the 9 a.m. starting time for the buyback.
At a command post in the parking lot, officers checked weapons to make sure they hadn’t been stolen or used in a crime, and took the guns. The people who turned them in got a $50 Safeway gift card for every gun — money donated by the grocery chain and by private contributors.
Anna Jolivet had four old rifles she didn’t want: “They belonged to my husband, and he passed away four years ago, and I haven’t had any success in having someone take them off of me since then. So I thought this is a good time to turn them in.”
That’s exactly what Republican Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik expected when he asked the police to do the buyback. What he didn’t expect was the response after he announced the event.
“I’ve been getting threats,” Kozachik says. “I’ve been getting emails. I’ve been getting phone calls in the office trying to shut this thing down or ‘We’re going to sue you’ or ‘Who do you think you are?’ “
Todd Rathner, an Arizona lobbyist and a national board member of the NRA, may sue. He has no problem with the gun buyback, but he does have a problem with the fate of the guns once police take possession of them.
“We do believe that it is illegal for them to destroy those guns,” he says.
Rathner says Arizona state law forces local governments to sell seized or abandoned property to the highest bidder.
“If property has been abandoned to the police, then they are required by ARS 12-945 to sell it to a federally licensed firearms dealer, and that’s exactly what they should do,” he says.
That way, Rathner says, the guns can be put back in circulation or given away.
The Tucson city attorney calls that a misreading of the law.
Councilman Kozachik says the guns aren’t being abandoned; they’re being turned in voluntarily.
“This is about giving somebody the chance to say, ‘Look I’m not comfortable having this weapon, here’s an opportunity for me to just get rid of it in a proper manner,’ ” Kozachik says.
Rathner says the NRA will ask for an accounting of every weapon turned in and then go to court to stop the firearms from being destroyed. If that doesn’t work, Rathner says they’ll change the law.
“We just go back and we tweak it and tune it up, and we work with our friends in the Legislature and fix it so they can’t do it,” Rathner adds.
At the gun buyback, gun-rights advocates held signs reading “Cash For Guns” and “Pay Double for Your Guns.” As cars pulled into the parking lot, they asked drivers if they wanted to sell their guns privately rather than turn them in. There were few takers.
Doug Deahn couldn’t understand it: “Can’t figure they’d rather line up and give them away. Can’t figure that out.”
What’s to become of the weapons may still be unclear. But in the current political climate, this controversy seems to show that, in Arizona at least, it’s tough for an owner to get rid of an unwanted gun.
The position the gun-rights advocates hold seems to be that guns must never be destroyed: passed along, sold to others, whatever—but never, ever destroyed.
NPR notes in an update by Tom Robbins:
UPDATE: The Tucson Police Department sent 205 weapons to be destroyed Tuesday afternoon. A spokesman for the NRA says he will work with the Arizona legislature to rewrite the law to prevent police from destroying firearms from gun buybacks in the future.
I’m sure he has good qualities, but he keeps them pretty well hidden. Sahil Kapur reports at TPMDC on Scott’s overt and deliberate lies about healthcare costs:
Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott has rejected the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. And now he’s in hot water for apparently inflating the cost of the expansion to Floridians in order to justify his decision.
The website Health News Florida reported Tuesday that Scott was warned in letters by the state legislature’s top economist and budget analyst that his administration’s figure — that the expansion would cost the state $26 billion over 10 years — was false.
Scott’s aide reportedly said, in emails obtained by HNF, that the figure was based on the assumption that the federal government — which is tasked with paying for the vast majority of each state’s Medicaid expansion for the first decade — would not fulfill its promise.
But after the report was published and caused a stir, including scathing criticism from Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), Scott said through a spokeswoman that his Agency for Health Care Administration would consider alternate cost estimates.
“AHCA’s report concluded that adding people to Medicaid under the new law would cost Florida $26 billion over 10 years,” said Scott’s aide Melissa Sellers. “Others have asked AHCA to use different assumptions to calculate different cost estimates. We look forward to reviewing those cost estimates as well.”
Castor accused Scott — a former hospital executive who rose to national prominence in 2009 while campaigning against the ACA — of deliberately deceiving Floridians.
“Not only did Gov. Scott manufacture flawed cost estimates, but it appears he had been advised that the numbers were flawed and used them anyway,” Castor said in a statement. “Florida Legislative Appropriations staff advised the governor’s office that the numbers were misleading, but it appears that the governor ignored it. … Clearly this was not a mistake. Knowing that the numbers are wrong and using them anyway is.”
The Scott administration’s Medicaid figures were disputed by multiple nonpartisan analyses. . .
Robert Wright has a particularly interesting post on the practice and effects of Buddhist meditation. From the post:
. . . During the meditation retreats I’ve been on–four of them over the past 10 years–the teachers typically say you shouldn’t be “seeking” a pleasurable state, or anything else. Rather, you should just observe things. Observe your breath, your sensations, your emotions, sounds, whatever. And, as you observe these things, you’re not supposed to make value judgments. So, for example, though anxiety normally feels bad, if you encounter a wave of it while meditating, you’re supposed to examine it with as much detachment as possible, doing your best to see it as neither good nor bad but just as a fact. . .
He has much more to say, and the post as a whole is well worth reading, but as I read that it occurred to me that this kind of nonjudgemental awareness of immediate experience is exactly the state of mind engendered by shaving—and, of course, by other activities that induce flow: rock-climbing, playing music, drawing/painting, and so on—the sorts of things Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. It is not so much as a loss of a sense of self, as the self being fully active in controlling the body and being fully aware of internal and external stimuli so that there is no room for value judgments or random thoughts: one is completely absorbed in the on-going experience.
His column describes the outcomes well.
Robert Wright has a post trying to establish a (recent) timeline of hostile encounters between Israeli forces and inhabitants of the Gaza strip, which I found only mildly successful. But the piece is followed by a long comment thread that seemed very interesting to me, with the exchanges between BRS_CA and dodanimal that starts right away in the comment particularly illuminating. BRS_CA makes a very good case for Israel, but unfortunately dodanimal does not bring the same level of argument to bear in favor of the Palestinians: s/he seems emotional and less concerned with communicating facts. Still, it’s an intriguing discussion, and BRS_CA educated me on many aspects I had not previously known. It’s too bad he did not have a better interlocutor.
I really enjoyed today’s shave, with a few of my favorite things. The Wet Shaving Products Monarch HMW brush worked well with Strop Shoppe’s Special Edition Teakwood with tallow: very fine lather indeed. I do build the lather on my face, and I find it easy to adjust the lather when more water is needed: a driblet of hot water into the center of the brush, working that into the lather on my beard, and I can tell immediately when I hit the sweet spot.
The Tradere Solid Bar did its usual fine job in a three-pass shave, and then a good splash of D.R. Harris Pink Aftershave ended the shave on a fine note.