Advice for Young Carey Wedler

Carey WedlerCarey Wedler is a young liberal who makes videos. She’s very good. But last month she made a video that really annoyed me, Why I’m Burning My Last Bridge With Obama. In it she talks about how disappointed she has been with the president. I’m all for that, even if I personally haven’t been disappointed. I had low expectation. I knew that he was a typical, cautious, centrist Democrat. And I also knew that like all presidents of either party, whatever he had said during the campaign about privacy and the farcical “war on terror,” it would vanish just as soon as the career spooks got at him. But as Democratic presidents go, he’s about par, and from an absolute standard, that’s pretty bad.

So I forgive Wedler for being young and idealistic, thinking that all that “Hope & Change” rhetoric was something more than the poetry of elections. And her complaints are valid. She does an excellent job of running down what’s wrong with Obama’s term in office:

You bailed out bankers and placed them in your cabinet. You put Monsanto in charge of your FDA. You helped out pharmaceutical and health insurance companies with Obamacare. You expanded Bush’s wars and started new ones with drones—branding yourself a humanitarian warmonger. You bragged about crippling sanctions against Iran, though they directly affected civilians. You extended the Patriot Act and asserted your right to spy on the American people. You also asserted your right to detain them without trial. You even seized the authority to assassinate Americans without providing any evidence of their guilt or offering them due process of law. You viciously punished journalists and pursued whistleblowers who exposed your crimes, though you vowed to protect them when you were running for office. You armed Al-Qaeda insurgencies, refused to close Guantanamo, and you, along with Congress, criminalized protests. And still, you have the audacity to scold dictators about democracy, protest, and freedom.

I would disagree with a couple of these and I would go further on others, but it’s a good list. And it is a sad but true reality that part of growing up involves developing a certain amount of cynicism. But Obama didn’t perpetrate the kind of bait and switch she suggests. He was very clear during the campaign that he was no radical. And he certainly never claimed that liberals should just sit back and relax while he fixed the world. So her response to his election is totally unacceptable:

In 2008, I was actually one of your most hysterical supporters… I waited for three hours in the rain to see Michelle and Stevie Wonder and Oprah campaign on your behalf. And this is me on the night that you were elected, shedding a tear of euphoria because I thought history had been made. But, like a lot of Obama supporters, I sat back for the next couple of years and figured I’d let you handle all that change, because you were the one that was selling it anyway. And then, when I decided that maybe I should Google the news to see what was going on in the world, I found that you had become exactly like the George Bush that I used to so vitriolically hate.

What’s more, it is simply wrong to say that Obama has become exactly like George Bush, but I will allow that he isn’t different enough. So as a protest, Wedler burns her “Obama Is My Homeboy” t-shirt. I’m all for protests. But she goes on with a rant that combines hippy free love with the looniest of libertarianism. And sadly, I don’t get the impression that she realizes that she’s doing this.

The “both parties are the same” argument is an argument for everything that I suspect Wedler hates. If there is no difference between the parties, then there is no point to voting. And if Wedler and her generation don’t vote, we can depend upon people like Ted Cruz getting elected. The hope of democracy is not that a great candidate will get elected and fix all of our problems. The hope is that enough decent people vote that we can make steps — every person, every policy, every day — to improve the country. If our political expectations are going to be “all or nothing,” then what we will get is nothing. Actually, we will get worse. The modern Republican Party isn’t for keeping things the same. They want to make things worse.

If I could talk to Wedler, I would tell her that her issue videos are great. But what we need right now, is a video to tell people to vote. Maybe she could run her Obama t-shirt burn video backwards. Because Obama is far from ideal, but he is much better than all the Republicans who will get elected in November if young people like her don’t vote.


Also: people like Wedler should be out taking over their local Democratic Party operations. They should be running for local office. That’s where the world is changed!

This Is Not Great-Great-Grandma’s GOP

Marsh BlackburnWith political news so depressing (see, for example, my last article), I find I spend most of my fun hours each day working on a totally awesome high tech project that I still can’t talk about. But there are stories that come by that while still in a fundamental sense depressing are also deliciously fun. And we got a great one this afternoon via Caitlin MacNeal at Talking Points Memo, Blackburn: GOP “Led the Fight for Women’s Equality.” Tennessee Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn told Face the Nation yesterday that all this Democratic talk of a conservative war on women was “almost silly.”

I like that she pulled her punch there. So it isn’t up to Bugs Bunny. It’s more Popeye the Sailor. Or something. But Blackburn got to her main point, “It is Republicans that have led the fight for women’s equality. Go back through history, and look at who was the first woman to ever vote, elected to office, go to Congress, four out of five governors.” You gotta love that! This is what Republicans always say, “Of course we’re a vile party now. But go back a hundred years and you’ll see we weren’t always!”

What have the Republicans done for women recently? Not much. MacNeal quotes a Huffington Post article that noted that Blackburn herself voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This was the act that made it so that people could take legal action against discriminatory pay when they find out about it rather than when it secretly happens. Blackburn has said that women “don’t want” equal pay laws. I have little doubt that if Blackburn had been around before the Nineteenth Amendment, she would have claimed that women didn’t want the right to vote either.

But Ed Kilgore wrote this afternoon, Equal Rights For Women and the GOP: I Wouldn’t Go There, Sister! He noted, the Republican Party really was good about civil rights in the past. At one time they were for African-American rights and women’s rights. But that isn’t who they are now. Really:

If you “go back through history,” you do find a lot of Republican support for equal rights. Indeed, the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced by two Republican members of Congress, and was subsequently endorsed in ten consecutive Republican National Convention platforms beginning in 1940.

The streak was broken in 1980, never to be revived, at the request of you-know-who and his supporters. Remember that every time Republican pols talk about their record of support for equal rights even as they genuflect to the memory of Ronald Reagan.

The rich love Reagan because he reduced their taxes and eliminated many regulations. But the base primarily love him for making the culture war seem reasonable. Cutting welfare wasn’t about economics; it was about getting those welfare queens. And taking the ERA out the platform was about taking a stand against uppity women. This is not your great-great-grandmothers’s GOP.

GOP Senate Would Be Worse Than Thought

Mitch McConnellIt seems that I wasn’t depressed enough about the current state of American politics. So yesterday, Jonathan Chait wrote an article to make me feel even worse, If Republicans Win the Senate, What Crisis Will Mitch McConnell Cook Up Next? It is about the effect that a Republican Senate will have on the last two years of President Obama’s term. Chait’s thinking Constitutional crisis.

In those two years, it is quite possible that one of the liberal justices will die. That would be bad enough. As we know, the Republicans are generally unwilling to confirm even moderate justices like Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. But even if they were so willing, we would likely get an even more conservative court. This is especially true if the only truly liberal justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who is 81), left us.

Obama CopeBut the really bad prospect is what would happen if a conservative justice died. Antonin Scalia is 78. Anthony Kennedy is 77. Based upon demographics, there is roughly a 20% chance that one of them will die in the next two years. And if that happened, I can’t imagine the Republicans allowing Obama to nominate anyone to the court. Just look at how they behaved about the DC Circuit Court. That was really what caused Harry Reid to “go nuclear.” Republicans were unwilling to allow any judges to be confirmed because the court was balanced.

If that happened, there would be a constitutional crisis. And frankly, I don’t see any way out of it. The only hope is that no conservative justices die. Or better yet that no justices die at all. And that’s pathetic. But it goes right along with my long held belief that the Republicans have become a revolutionary party. And a big part of this is thinking that the entire system is invalid. Thus, it is okay to totally gum it up.

Chait went even further. He noted that McConnell was the man who innovated the “oppose everything” strategy against Obama and showed that in fact the people didn’t blame him or his party in the least for this behavior. (Sadly, because of the implicit bias in the media, I suspect that a similar move by the Democrats would cause a backlash.) As a result of this, it is likely that McConnell can come up with lots more creative ideas to destroy democracy in the United States.

Of course, the only way this happens is if the Republicans actually take over the Senate. And the only way that happens is if Democratic voters allow it. And they do have to allow it—by not voting. And my best guess is that they will allow. They won’t even bother to show up at the polls. The Greeks understood that democracy wasn’t a gift. It was a social duty—something that was required of citizens. In America, we’ve never really understood that. And that is why we pretty much don’t have a democracy. The whole country can go on tilt and all that is required is for good people to do nothing.

Turbo Tax vs Tax Act

20140414-turbo-tax-logo.jpeg Turbo Tax vs Tax Act 20140414-logo_tax_act.jpg
Which is Best?

OK. We are down to that yearly last minute crunch time… but people still want to know which they should trust with their taxes. The shortest easiest answer is, use the same service you used last year. Both of these and most of the services will import tons of data, automatically, from the previous tax filing. That saves a lot of time, makes for less mistakes AND can help you catch mistakes or omissions from the previous filing(s). So, especially if you have put off doing the deed til today, that is the best answer.

I did not wait ‘til THE last day, just the day before… so, this time, I had a little bit of time to play with both softwares. To me, Turbo tax is a hair less intuitive, but more like filling out the actual paperwork, by hand. I think Tax Act might be a little more clumsy of an interface and it tried harder to upsell me to other versions and services. It is, however, who I submitted my filing with. There were many more questions, esp of ones that relate to business operations, that in Turbo Tax. Plus, as noted, this was apparently who I filed with last year and at several key places in the Q&A Tax Act showed me a side by side comparison of 2012 and 2013, which was quite helpful.

I played with both last year as well. This year, when trying to log back in, I found TA had a harder time confirming who I was and getting everything up and running. I did, however, find it easier in TA to revise numbers on the fly as my wife was generating more accurate figures.
I believe, last year was the first time I completed the process with TA instead of Turbo Tax. Every year, there are little tweaks and differences in the interface and navigation tools. For some reason, I felt in 2012 that TA was out-performing TT. This year as well, it seems there were some things TT was not asking me, such as interest paid on a student loans. I found that deduction category, but never the specific place to input that figure.

TAX ACT you are the winner! (for this year, at least)

The Models of Thomas Schelling

Thomas SchellingThe great economist Thomas Schelling is 93 today. At least I guess he’s an economist. He is definitely a mathematical modeler. But a lot of stuff he has done strikes me as more like political science. And he is definitely of the realpolitik tradition. I’m not at all convinced that his models necessarily relate to reality as much as many people seem to think. This is because all my scientific work was mathematical modeling. And as much as this work can be really helpful, it’s important to remember that they are just models. Usually scientists don’t forget this, but the people who follow them often do.

Schelling has been of some note recently because of his opinions about global warming. He has determined that mitigation would be most costly to the advanced economies and most beneficial to the developing economies. This is rather typical economic nonsense. And it is also entirely typical of his Machiavellian outlook on international relations. I think it is in our interest to do something because we have a lot to lose and we don’t know what global warming will bring. But one thing that is almost certain to happen is that the major farm areas of the United States will literally dry up. And if we don’t intend to invade Canada, we really need to do something about it.

I am especially interested in Schelling’s work on segregation. He created a model that I find quite compelling. It shows that small individual preferences for neighbors of the same race will lead to macro-scale segregation. It also happens to go right along with my experiences of humanity. Most people are somewhat ethnocentric and this leads to really big racial problems. It is one of many things that make me despair of humans ever advancing much past the culture of ancient Sumer, given that we haven’t managed to do it over the past 5,000 years. Although it is cool that we are better able to model it.

Happy birthday Thomas Schelling!