Friday, February 04, 2011

Pitfalls Everywhere

I’m honestly not sure which type of liberal scares me more: The ones who see traps in everything we do, or the ones who get angry because we don’t fall into the traps sitting right in front of our faces.

Exhibit A comes from a post at Bad Astronomy, which highlighted an utterly moronic YouTube video of Bill O’Reilly, in which Falafel defends his claim that ocean tides are proof of God’s existence by pointing out that things exist.  And well, yeah Bill.  Genius.  How did we get here?  Because nobody's ever asked that question before. 

And if that's a valid question, then a better one is "Where did God come from?"  And while we've got some good answers to Bill's question, nobody's got a good one for the god question.  It doesn't even make sense.  He's insisting that everything needs a creator, except for the creator.  But if God didn't need a creator, then maybe the universe didn't either.  This isn't rocket science.

And unless I'm mistaken, Bill seemed to even suggest that Mars doesn't have a moon, when it, in fact, has two.  And without a doubt, O'Reilly is so entirely clueless about science that he doesn't even understand the most basic questions we've already answered.  And if you want your brain to be put into a mind-blown stupor, I recommend clicking through and watching the video.  You'll certainly be dumber for it.

Bill Knows All the Arguments

But to some liberals, this video is proof of how dangerously brilliant O'Reilly is.  Seriously.  I found this in the comments there:
The secondary clip makes it even more obvious that “Tide goes in, Tide goes out” was a trap for Silverman. Bill knows all the arguments. He wants to trap someone in a battle over the intricacies of how the universe works, all of which take longer to explain and result in less snappy soundbytes than the religious view. His viewers want to see the guy that claims to be religious defeating waffling scientists with snappy soundbytes.
See?  Bill O'Reilly isn't a pinhead twit.  He's a super-genius who knows all the arguments and how to make smart people look stupid.

And for as much as that can be a trick, it only works if you're making arguments that aren't so easily proven false.  Because this is stuff they teach to elementary school children, and so it only makes O'Reilly look like a moron to say it.  Making a claim that taxcuts increase tax revenues is wrong, but difficult to explain in a short period.  The moon?  Not so much.

And of course, I fail to see how anyone watching the clip could possibly imagine that Bill didn't really believe he had solved the Does God Exist question.  He's not some super-crafty master-debater.  He's a bully blowhard who gets high off his own supply.


And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have the people who get angry when Democrats don't walk into political minefields, under this delusional idea that politics aren't real and you can grab everything you want, if only you're bold enough to do so.  And for as much as you can point out all the blunders Republicans repeatedly committed by believing in this theory, some liberals continually point to the Bushies with admiration and insist that Bush's boldness somehow paid off for him.

And I was thinking about this because I saw that there are still liberals who are extremely angry that Obama didn't prosecute Bush, Cheney, and the rest of those scumbags for their crimes.  And it's as if it was some slamdunk that we'd be able to prove that crimes were committed and the country would rejoice that we brought them to justice; entirely unaware of the political firestorm Obama would have been walking into had he chosen this dangerous path.

And while I can understand how people could be angry at the time, it's quite apparent that anger still hasn't gone away.  I'm now too tired to finish this post, so I'm just going to go ahead and reprint what I wrote somewhere else to someone who had said that we needed to prosecute them because appearances matter:

But you've got the appearances entirely backwards. The appearance would have been that we are a banana republic that prosecutes political enemies for partisan reasons. That wouldn't have been the reality, but that's what Republicans were already saying at the time and the media would have done their best to repeat it. And we'd have gotten years worth of hand-wringing by WaPo and NY Times editors insisting that Obama's political witchhunt was bad for America and exposed him as not being the post-partisan president he promised he'd be.

THAT would be the appearance. And the only folks who would know otherwise would be us liberals, who already know what crooks these guys are. Everyone else wouldn't have cared or would side with the crooks; just as they did already. They'd be looking at rising unemployment and wondering why we're sifting through Dick Cheney's emails instead of fixing the economy. And frankly, I think I'd have to agree with that, as I'm quite convinced that a Cheney trial would have sucked all the air out of the Obama Admin.

And how exactly does it discourage repeat behavior when the offenders are hailed as heroes, and given talk shows, book deals, and cush jobs for life? No, it's much better for these jerks to slink off into obsurity rather than give them the Ollie North, Gordon Liddy treatment. Prosecuting them would have made them made men in Republican circles. The only way a Republican can be hurt is if they betray the party. Republicans don't eat their own.

As a post-script, I just went back and read a few of the comments replying to my comment, and see that I got totally slammed for what I wrote.  These people don't care about appearances or getting things done, or even justice.  They wanted blood.

One person patiently lectured me that this wouldn't be a banana republic, because we were prosecuting crimes, as if that's the way everyone would see it.  Another commenter actually implied as if everyone already knew Bush/Cheney was guilty, and it therefore undermined our confidence to not see them prosecuted.  And this is the reality too many liberals live in: Where the truth would be understood by everyone, if only someone had the balls to say it on TV; as if no one's ever tried that one before.  And they'd know better if they ever got their heads out of their asses and actually listened to what people say. 

Like it or not, most people don't even follow the news, let alone liberal blogs.  They don't know what we know and going on TV and saying truth won't change a god damn thing.  And as I said, if we had spent our time prosecuting Cheney for waterboarding terrorists, even if we got a conviction, the average person would be wondering why we were wasting all our time doing that when we had an economy to fix. 

After all, that's what people say even when we weren't spending all our time reading Cheney's email.  But of course, these people really don't care much about fixing problems and improving lives.  They want to see Republicans eat shit and they'll yell at anyone who doesn't give it to them.


mahakal said...

Another disingenuous liberal bashing post, surprise! You never actually quote "them" do you? But "they" sure don't like you much, apparently. At least you have one upper middle class friend who reads and likes your posts, I guess.

Betsy said...

Yes, actually I do. Sorry mahakal. I think I am allowed an opinion too, don't you? I have been saying that it would have been a seriously bad misstep to prosecute those people EVEN THOUGH I REALLY WANTED IT TO HAPPEN. I could see that it would have been a fatal misstep for the Obama Admin. It is very sad because it should have been done, but it was really impossible. My husband's friends and a few of my own are my barometer. I live in Texas and these people have NO IDEA of what we know. They are ordinary Texans and if this had happened they would not have understood it at ALL. And yes, if you saw the second tape Bill made after the tides one you would see he is as ignorant as my dog (if not nearly as nice)(or as handsome)

Doctor Biobrain said...

Good point, Mahakal. Oh, wait. No it wasn't. Because you didn't actually make a point. You just mindlessly bashed me yet again without saying anything relevant whatsoever. And you even seem to be besmirching one of my readers now, because she likes what I write. What is the matter with you?

And no, I didn't quote "them." I was really tired and wanted to go to bed. But I posted a link to what "they" said, so you could read it. Is that a problem?

At a guess, I'm thinking that you've got a problem because I don't like what some liberals believe, because in your fevered imagination, this somehow means I'm not a liberal or something. As if liberals are like-minded robots who agree on all issues. Believe it or not, we aren't. I didn't bash liberals. I was only referring to the ones who say the things I disagree with it; and even then, I didn't insult them.

And frankly, I don't see where you come into this, as you're not a liberal. You're a diehard anti-Republican partisan who hates Republicans so much that you'll attack anyone who doesn't hate them as much as you do.

And sure, you'll pretend it's your liberal ideology that makes you dislike them, yet you'd rather hurt the unemployed than see Republicans have a victory, and actually think that deficit spending during a recession is bad. You're no better than the people you hate and you're certainly not a liberal.

mahakal said...

What insanity. I certainly don't think deficit spending is a bad idea. I bet you know someone without money, with no job, who is really excited about the tax breaks the upper middle class is getting. The stimulus was less than half as big as it should have been, states are going bankrupt, wages are being cut, but there might be a mandate to buy health insurance in a few years if the Supreme Court felt bound to follow your theories instead of their own ideologies. You're retarded. But the upper middle class SHOULD be happy with Obama.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Sorry, I guess that was a different Mahakal who complained about deficit spending caused by the 2% payroll tax cut.

And which tax hike for the middle class are you referring to? I know the unemployed should be happy about the extension of unemployment benefits that you opposed, but I guess you still refuse to acknowledge that that even happened.

And yes, I agree that the stimulus was much too small and these other problems. And I also acknowledge that it's possible that the Supreme Court might overturn the healthcare law, depending on how Justice Kennedy decides things; though I certainly think there's a good chance they won't do so. Besides, this isn't "my" theory. This is the theory of most legal scholars. And it should be your theory too, if you're a liberal.

And why are you so upset about all the people who will be getting insurance? We're going to subsidize health insurance for the poor and middle class by taxing the rich. Oh no! How horrible.

What's your big problem? Look, I agree that we should have more liberal policies. But I'll take what I can get. Why is that wrong? If helping people is wrong, I don't want to be right. You can keep your supposed ideological purity. I'll take pragmatism that helps people.

mahakal said...

You don't know how to read, apparently. I did not complain about deficit spending, I quoted an article which demonstrated your lie that there was some current funding replacement for the 2% cut in revenue to social security. There is not. You cannot tell the truth, perhaps you do not know the difference any more.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Alright, first off, I guess there was a misunderstanding, as you didn't put quote marks around what I'm guessing was a quote from the article; and that article had been changed since you first read it.

Specifically, your first paragraph must have been rewritten, while most of the second paragraph doesn't appear at all. I'm guessing that they realized their editorializing about deficit spending being bad news and the "sobering estimate" from the CBO didn't belong in that article. So I naturally assumed you were paraphrasing the article into your own words. Next time, use quote marks and you can avoid this confusion.

But secondly, when someone quotes something that describes deficit spending as a problem, it's a natural assumption that the person quoting it agrees with the quote. Perhaps it would help if you explained yourself, rather than being cryptic and making me read your mind to understand what you're trying to say. I'm sorry, but I can't read your mind.

And I never suggested that we had a different revenue source to replace the 2% cut that we let workers keep. I said Social Security wasn't being defunded. You said it was. You were wrong.

And if you were ever confused about this, then I'll fully state that, yes, the 2% cut was paid with deficit spending. And since we both agree that deficit spending during a recession isn't necessarily a bad thing, I fail to see how that's a problem.

Deficit spending to cut taxes for the rich? Moronic.

Deficit spending to cut taxes for the poor and middle class, as well as extending unemployment benefits? Smart move.

I'm confused as to how we're even arguing about this, when we're both in agreement.

mahakal said...

Social Security is a separate account from the budget deficit. Funds that were going to Social Security are now reduced. Benefits are still payable but the political push to reduce those benefits is based upon the projected insolvency of Social Security. Social Security was placed on a less solvent basis by reducing its revenue while leaving its obligations unchanged. This would be obvious to an accountant like yourself, of course, if you were honest.

Doctor Biobrain said...

How has Social Security been hurt? The government has replaced the revenue into SS with IOU's, the same as the IOU's it's already been giving Social Security for decades. These IOU's have the full faith of the government behind them and if you believe that these IOU's are worthless, then Social Security is already a complete fraud.

All that happened is that instead of the government collecting the 2%, keeping it for itself, and issuing IOU's; the government is issuing IOU's to SS without collecting the money. And so they're running slightly higher deficits to make up for that. But the lost revenue was for the General Fund, not the Social Security Trust Fund; which only consists of IOU's.

And as an accountant, I can assure you that this doesn't hurt Social Security's solvency in the least. Both cash and IOU's are assets and they both count the same towards solvency. You'd know that, of course, if you took accounting classes.

How many times do I need to say this: Social Security has NOT been defunded. That was what was so stupid about the article you cited, as it referred to government bonds as "promises." These aren't promises. They're guarantees. That article was rightwing scare-mongering against deficits and Social Security. I can't believe you accept it as fact.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Oh, and just to make the point more clear, here's a PDF from the Whitehouse explaining this:

As it says:
The law specifies that Social Security will receive every dollar it would have gotten even without the payroll tax cut. The legislation is absolutely clear on this point.

In Section 601(e), the legislation states:
“There are hereby appropriated to the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund [the Social Security Trust Fund] established under section 201 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 401) amounts equal to the reduction in revenues to the Treasury by reason of the application of subsection (a) [the payroll tax cut].”

This is a legal way of saying that Social Security will receive exactly what it would have received absent the enactment of this provision.

Now will you admit that you don't know what you're talking about?

mahakal said...

Thank you for the appropriation language, but this is even more dangerous by making Social Security a liability which is not self-financing, it becomes part of the budget subject to being cut rather than an asset to be borrowed from. Again, the politics of this are very harmful, because the Republican House will not agree to any tax increase. I agree that there is no immediate harm to Social Security, but there is no longer an adequate dedicated funding source.

Anonymous said...

Doctor Biobrain, I just recently was introduced to your blog, and I want to say that I am enjoying it immensely! Your views are of a different slant from what I usually encounter, and while I agree with many of them, I find myself in disagreement with others --- which is fine, since I like having my horizons broadened.

On this particular topic, I believe that I understand the political blowback that would have resulted from a prosecution of Bush, Cheney, Yoo, et al., by the U.S. and/or by the World Court; and, with respect, I still think that it should have been done. (Note that I specify "prosecution," as in due process, not just "HANG THEM!")

What would have happened? Well, the Republicans and Teabaggers would have thrown major fits, doing everything possible to block any and every piece of legislation that Obama and other Democrats put forward. They would have slimed President Obama, other Democrats and their proposed legislations (e.g., "Obamacare") on the air ceaselessly with negative propaganda, comparing them to Nazis, calling their plans "socialist" or worse, and making all kinds of nonsensical accusations, insinuations, lies, and so forth.

In other words, we would have had EXACTLY WHAT WE HAVE ANYWAY, but we also would be following "the rule of law" rather than "the rule of men" by investigating what is clearly AT LEAST a series of APPARENT crimes that deserve investigation and probably prosecution. To the masses, political appearances would probably be no different from what they are today, but abuses of executive power would not be simply ignored or shrugged off as "unprosecutable" for political reasons, which is a very dangerous precedent to set. This is a worldwide mark of shame for our country that supposedly holds regard for the law in such high esteem. More and more, it seems that this is so only in theory, rather than in practice --- or, as Shakespeare put it, "'Tis a custom more honored in the breach than in the observance."

The economy? Heck, yes, it needs to be fixed, too; I'm unemployed myself! But, as President Obama himself said when running for office, a president has to be able to deal with more than one crisis at a time. Ignoring or subverting important processes of law enforcement for political reasons is not, in my opinion, acceptable --- especially when, as we have seen, the political damage can hardly have been any worse than is constantly being suffered anyway.

All that having been said, however, I have great respect for your opinions and will continue reading. I appreciate having such thoughtful views expressed, even when I disagree with some of them. Keep up the great work!

~David D.G.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Mahakal, so you finally realize that you were pulling all that defunding crap out of your butt, rather than listening to me. You think I was guessing? I wasn't. I made a point of reading this stuff as soon as I could, so I'd know if Obama was hurting Social Security or not. This all happened almost two months ago, so there's no excuse for not knowing what happened.

And yeah, I razz you about this stuff and didn't really think you were lying about it. But all the same, it was pretty annoying. But you've got to trust me on this stuff, at least on some level. I don't say things unless I know what I'm talking about because I have a pathological fear of being wrong. And if you want better explanations, I'll provide them. But this personal bullshit really just sucks. Not because it hurts my feelings, as I have none to hurt. But because it gets in the way of an open dialogue, and that hurts everyone.

But beyond that, you're still not using the right words. It's not a liability, but an expenditure. And even then, it's only an expenditure for the 2% we cut and that only lasts for a year. Might Republicans somehow connive to extend this? Sure. They might also impeach Obama and Biden at the same time, in order to put Boehner in the Whitehouse. But that's not really something I'm too worried about.

Look, the reason we extended the Bush taxcuts was a rare situation which allowed them to hold America hostage because they were about to take over the House and more of the Senate in the next month. And Obama knew that if he waited until January, he was fucked; while Republicans had every incentive to keep waiting. And so he gave in on the stupid tax cuts while telling us how stupid they were, in order to help the unemployed, poor and middle class, overturn DADT and all those other good things.

But the thing is: That situation isn't going to happen again. That was a one-time deal and they won't be able to do that move again. And the only reason you imagine it might is because you're pissed that Obama made the tax deal, so you're forced to reject every part of the deal; even though it was probably the best deal we could get.

And as I keep saying: You're making a political argument. You're saying that Obama screwed us on how to fight a political battle. And our differences aren't about whether me or Obama are liberal enough, but whether this was the right political decision. You think it wasn't because you think it weakened us and made Obama more likely to lose in the future. Both Obama and I disagree and think it was a one-time deal and we'll be stronger in the future. That's exactly what he said when he announced the deal and I agree with his analysis.

And the truth is, I'd really like to see a Republican presidential nominee try to take a firm stand to support taxcuts for the rich in 2012, as it'll just make it easier for Democrats to trounce Republicans. It was an unpopular policy and while I'm sure their nominee will support taxcuts, he's not going to attempt the hostage taking Republicans did in December, as it's political suicide.

And in no case does it make either me or Obama a conservative because we preferred a different political move than you. All three of us agree that taxcuts for the rich was a dumb policy that was bad for America, and it should be allowed to expire in two years. That isn't a debate. So you need to stop imagining we're in an ideological debate and understand that we're only discussing politics.

mahakal said...

I'm not going to have a debate on accountancy terms, telling me that it's an expenditure not a liability is just a way of hiding the truth here. The fact is that Social Security which was self-financing is now partly on the general budget deficit, subject to political forces.

If you're a very good accountant, you can probably persuade people that liabilities are not liabilities and make lots of money like those geniuses at Enron. The politics of what has happened are precarious at best, and not significantly stimulative of the economy.

There needs to be infrastructure and public hiring to make up the private sector employment gap. Tax cuts for the rich do not trickle down but deprive the public sector of the very resources it needs. Deficit spending for tax cuts is not sane, reducing the scope of collective power does not increase the economy it only enriches the wealthy few.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Alright, look. This is just dumb, because you're using the word "liability" in an entirely different context of what it means. I get your meaning, in that you're saying that Social Security now hurts the government because the government has to pay for it. But while that is a use of that word, that's not what it really means.

Expenditure is the proper word, as the 2% the government pays is now the OPPOSITE of a liability, while the remaining amount workers pay is the true liability to the government. But again, I understand the way you're using the word.

And just to clarify a point that you might be confused about, the article you cited earlier said that government was already going to pay out $45 billion more to Social Security than it collected this year; because Social Security wasn't collecting enough. And the government will have to do this every year they don't collect enough, because they owe a liability to the trust fund. This is already the case. Social Security is a HUGE liability to the government because it's been borrowing money for decades.

This 2% tax cut meant that Social Security had even less money coming in, so the government had to pay out even more. But it was already going to pay out $45 billion whether or not we cut taxes for workers. And the same thing will happen in the future as more workers retire and fewer replace them. That's been the situation for decades and the government owes a whole lot of money to Social Security.

And again, the 2% cut expires at the end of the year and it's extremely unlikely that Republicans will somehow get anyone to extend it. Hell, I'll be amazed if they even care, as they don't want people to know that Obama let them keep more of their money.

And as for your final paragraph, I fully and completely agree with what you wrote about taxcuts for the rich being stupid and dangerous. I've said that repeatedly. So has Obama. When Obama announced the tax deal, he stated repeatedly that they were a bad idea that needed to end and he'll fight to end them in 2012, since he'll be in a better position to fight.

Thus said, using deficit spending for taxcuts for the poor and middle-class was a good idea. Deficit spending to extend unemployment benefits was a good idea. Yet your preferred political move might have denied both of these for us, because you think Republicans were bluffing when they weren't.

That's what this argument is about. You, I, and Obama all agree that taxcuts for the rich are stupid. So stop preaching to the preachers. If you think Republicans were bluffing in December, make that case. But stop trying to argue about tax policies that we're both in agreement on.

mahakal said...

"And again, the 2% cut expires at the end of the year and it's extremely unlikely that Republicans will somehow get anyone to extend it. Hell, I'll be amazed if they even care, as they don't want people to know that Obama let them keep more of their money."

There is your insane speculation. Republicans have said they will consider it a tax increase if the cuts are allowed to expire. Do you think they are all suffering from Alzheimer's and will decide to follow Doctor Biobrain's prescriptions to raise taxes instead of forcing cuts to Social Security? The compromise position will be to renew the tax cuts again.

And income tax cuts don't go to poor people. Poor people don't pay income taxes. So stop that argument.

mahakal said...

To the extent that people who are employed and making money pay FICA taxes that are reduced by this 2% the amount of money that puts in the pockets of people who earn minimum wage is very small and again has little stimulus effect with great risk to the long term safety of Social Security.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Could you please cite examples of Republicans saying they'll fight to keep the 2% cut? I haven't seen anything of the kind, so I'd be interested to know if they're even mentioning that Obama cut everyone's taxes.

I'm sure if any Republicans mentioned it, the rest of the party got them to shut up about it quickly.

And I see from your latest comment that you now realize I was right when I said that poor people got a tax cut, and you were wrong for criticizing me for that. What a surprise.

Beyond that, the tax deal extended the Earned Income Credit and Child Tax Credits, which are both refundable; meaning that you receive them even if you didn't pay any taxes.

For example, a family of four making $25k last year will get a refund of $6,819, even if they paid no income tax. That same family making $18k will receive a refund of $7,836. Thanks to Obama's tax deal, they'll get the same next year too. It's debatable if you can call that a "tax cut," but it's certainly good for these people and the country.

And again, that's what we're debating; not the wisdom of the tax cuts for the wealthy, but whether or not Republicans were bluffing. They weren't, as they had no reason to bluff. And if Obama failed at this by not compromsing, which he would have, it would have hurt the unemployed, poor, and middle-class.

And so that's the point of discussion. Obama compromised on a shitty taxcut for the rich, in order to give us liberal policies that benefitted America. And you're just mad that he gave Republicans anything at all; which is a political argument, not a policy argument.

mahakal said...

"Deutch says he has no doubt that a year from now some Republicans will try to make the payroll tax cut permanent.

"Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee is predicting the same thing. He says that a year from now when the tax break expires it will be portrayed as a tax increase."

Are we through here?

Doctor Biobrain said...

That's it? That's your basis for "knowing" that Obama helped destroy Social Security? One article that mentions one Republican it doesn't quote, as well as a Republican who doesn't think we should mess with Social Security?

Oh, well then. I guess I stand corrected, if you could find one Republican Senator who wasn't quoted saying that they'll see it as a tax cut and another who says "somebody" will make that argument. How much more evidence could I possible get? We might as well consider Social Security as good as dead.

Seriously, you're going to have to do a lot better than that. Because remember, it's not enough for Republicans to call it a tax increase; something that you don't even know will happen. But Republicans will have to convince Democrats and Obama to write a new law that makes this happen. And why would they do that?

Again, Obama didn't compromise on the Bush taxcuts because Republicans attacked him for raising taxes. He held firm against those arguments. He compromised because he had no other choice, due to a circumstance that won't happen again.

BTW, I'm sure the search you did turned up LOTS of anti-Obama people claiming that this 2% cut will undermine Social Security; but almost nothing from Republicans claiming they'll do it. Why do you think that is?

mahakal said...

What the fuck. You're off building your castles of imaginary futures and hypothetical search results. I'm done.

Doctor Biobrain said...

What hypothetical search results? I did an ACTUAL search in an attempt to find these hypothetical Republicans you keep warning me about, and came up empty. I even did a search on Bob Corker and couldn't find a quote of him saying he would oppose raising the payroll tax back up. In fact, I couldn't find any Republicans telling anyone that Obama cut their taxes; just as I thought.

So you've got one article that doesn't directly quote Corker saying he'd do this, as well as a Republican who says he'd OPPOSE messing with Social Security like this. And you dare attack me for imaginary futures.

Look, admit it. You made this stuff up. Republicans aren't doing what you said they were doing. Just as Obama didn't defund Social Security, as you had wrongly imagined. The reality is that you have no reality. You only have your fantasties, yet you demand that I refute all your fantasies with proof before you'll stop believing in them.

But that's not how it works. Unless you've seen Republicans saying they'll oppose letting the 2% payroll tax go back at the end of the year, you shouldn't claim they're saying this stuff. That's just how it works.