"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Posts tagged ‘Republicans are crazy’

Republicans are full of gas

This continues from my previous post.  To summarize, President Obama has done a great many things wrong; raising gas prices is not one of those things.  Gas prices are determined on a worldwide market by supply and demand.  President Obama cannot make global demand go down, nor can he make global supply go up.  Therefore nothing President Obama could do would change the price at the pump, at least not by very much.

“But wait!” I hear the Republicans say.  “President Obama can increase the global supply!  All he has to do is cut all those government regulations and soon we’ll be able to drill all the oil we want.”  Sounds superficially convincing.  There are regulations on oil drilling, regulation does often prevent commodity production and send prices upwards.  So the Republicans have been proved right after all.

Or have they?  To answer that, we’ll need some numbers.  (All easily verifiable from the latest CIA World Fact Book or countless other sources.)

Worldwide, humanity produces and uses about 88 millions barrels of oil per day.  Of that number, the United States uses about 15 million barrels per day.  Slightly less than half that much is pumped in the US itself, while the rest we import.  That works out to importing about 3 billion barrels per year.  for the past 30 years, our oil consumption has risen steadily while our production has fallen steadily, regardless of who’s been in the White House.  Thus we’ve ended up importing more and more.

Could we actually produce enough to meet our own needs?  The Republicans are sure that we could.  They often toss around a figure of 1.4 trillion barrels reading to be pumped in the United States.  On the other hand, the CIA World Fact Book gives a somewhat smaller figure: 20 billion barrels of proven reserves.  If the first figure is correct, we could easily produce enough for ourselves for centuries to come and have plenty left over.  If the second figure is correct, then it’s a fairly trivial amount.  It would satisfy our own needs for only three or four years, after which we’d run out and be right back to importing at high costs from wonderful countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

So it all comes down to which figure is correct.  And here’s the rub: the two figures are measuring completely different things.  The CIA’s figure measures the amount of actual petroleum that we’re sure is in the ground and accesible.  The figure that Republicans toss around on their message boards–who knows where they got it–supposedly summarizes all existing oil in the United States.  That includes not only liquid petroleum but also tar sands and shale oil.

But alas, just because oil exists doesn’t mean that we can turn it into gas at the pump.  First of all, some of it exists in hard-to-get places, buried under miles of rock or miles of water or both.  Drilling into those places is sometimes impossible, always expensive, and always risky.  Things like this can happen:

(It wasn’t called “Deepwater Horizons” for nothing.)

As for the tar sands and shale oil, it’s quite expensive to get oil out of those sources too, and once it’s out it’s costly to refine the stuff, much more costly than refining liquid petroleum.  As a result it’s often not cost-effective to get it at all.  Moreover, as gas prices go up, the cost of building and running the huge mining projects that make the stuff also go up, and in fact several large oil-production projects have been cancelled because the oil necessary to build them is too expensive.

Lastly, there is this little issue called “the environment”.  To get gas out of shale, we must use a process called “hydraulic fracturing”, or “fracking” for short.  And what are the environmental effects of fracking?

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens such as benzene and radioactive elements such as radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.


Ron Paul

In the past week I’ve written posts about Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.  Now it’s time to write about someone who I truly thought I’d never see again.  That someone is Ron Paul.

In 2008, Ron Paul ran for President.  He drummed up a lot of fanatical support among certain young people, who were convinced that he had a good shot a victory.  Instead he flopped miserably in the Republican primaries.  Then his followers switched to believing that he’d run as an independent.  He didn’t do so.  Then there was a hair-brained scheme to take over the Republican Convention and get him nominated.  That didn’t work either.  So by the end of the 2008 campaign, it looked as if Ron Paul’s campaign had been an utter disaster and a complete waste of time and money.  While he would surely hold onto his Texas House seat, I and most others expected that we’d see no more of him at the national level.

I guess the joke’s on us.  Ron Paul is back and surging in the polls.  A couple polls have shown him at or near the top of the Republican field in Iowa, with caucuses just twelve days away.  National polls show him third in the Republican field.  So now it’s time to look at what Ron Paul truly stands for.

His platform seems to be made up of two halves.  One half is courageous positions where he stands up for truth, fairness, freedom, and limited government in ways that no other candidate would consider doing.  The other half is sheer madness, causing one to wonder whether he’s not only insane but violently insane.

In the first category are his positions on the Iraq War (the only ‘Pub to vote against it in 2003), torture (completely opposed), indefinite detention without parole (opposed), the War on Drugs (seemingly willing to scale it back significantly), and corporate subsidies (ready to eliminate all of them).  These positions are commendable, and we’re not likely to see any serious candidate advancing them any time soon.

In the second category are many troubling things.  For example, Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to oppose the Civil Rights Act.  He has taken other positions that hint at racism, such as being the lone vote against a Medal of Honor for Rosa Parks.  This is in line with the notorious series of racist newsletters that he put his name on in the 80’s and 90’s, then defended, then decided that he had no association with.  Next comes his paranoid ranting about Mexico, including bogus claims that the US and Mexican governments are seeking to merge the two nations and build a “NAFTA Superhighway” and so forth.  All of this is pure baloney, but Paul sticks to it like a leech.  Lastly but not least is his economic policies, which center around abolishing the Federal Reserve and recreating the gold standard.  While I proudly hate economics, I’m smart enough to know that such a move would be suicidal to our way of life.

So that’s Ron Paul in a nutshell: fifty percent brave and truthful, fifty percent off his rocker.  A typical supporter will focus on the first half of what the man says while ignoring the second half.  But ignoring the second half would be foolish.  We cannot ignore malignant, violent insanity just because the person in question has a few positions that we like.  So much for Ron Paul.

Presidential Politics

After many election cycles as a political junky of sorts, I find my attention drifting farther and farther away from national politics.  Why?  Partly because my faith is Jesus Christ has opened the door to many more important things to be interested in.  Partly because in the current situation there seems to be little hope that either major party will accomplish anything worthwhile.  And partly because it’s just lost its entertainment value.  When I was younger, the political process was interrupted by moment of surreality, as our elected leaders did things so bizarre and ridiculous that people struggled to find any decent way of responding.  But now the surrealism is flowing non-stop.  There’s no longer any grounded realism for the surrealism to be contrasted to.

Let me focus for a second on presidential politics.  For most of American history, folks ran for President if and only if they wanted to be President.  There simply wasn’t any other reason to toss your hat into the ring.  Over the past generation we’ve seen the rise of “second-tier candidates”.  These guys (and they’re always guys) list themselves as contenders for the nomination of the major parties while knowing perfectly well that they have no chance of winning.  They do it to get attention for their pet causes.  This makes sense, given  the enormous amount of media attention that gets directed at the presidential race.  By joining the race, one gets to appear at debates and get mentioned in some of the coverage.  It’s a relatively low-cost way to get publicity.  That’s what fuels the campaigns of ‘single-digit midgets’ like Pat Buchanan, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel.

The last decade has seen the rise of a third type of candidate: the joke candidate.  The joke candidate has no interest in becoming President or in advancing a political agenda.  Instead, he or she runs only to boost his or her own ego, and thus engages in outlandish behavior just for the heck of it.  The watershed moment for joke candidates was the 2003 recall election for the governorship of California.  Many joke candidates ran: Arrianna Huffington, Gary Coleman, and Larry Flynt, just to name three.  One joke candidate won: Arnold Schwarzenegger.  There can be little doubt that having this incompetent buffoon in office for seven years contributed to the financial disaster that hit California during his second term.  But there can be less doubt that the whole experience boosted his ego, and that he enjoyed behaving like a small, spoiled child while running the biggest state government in the country.

Joke candidates didn’t really hit the presidential race en masse until the currect campaign cycle.  Thus far, four different joke candidates–Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann, and Herman Cain, having reached first or second in the polls in the race of the Republican nomination.  More startling still is the fact that the last man on that list is still first in the polls, with the primaries starting in two and a half months.  Now my personal prediction is that Mitt Romeny will eke out a victory in the primaries.  However, anyone looking at the current situation would have to acknowledge an outside possibility that Cain will win, or that some other joker will manage to come out on top.  And if I were an intelligent Republican, that possibility would not make me happy.

The Cut-the-Crap-and-Balance Bill

I dislike politics in general.  I dislike both major political parties.  I even dislike most of the minor political parties, which requires more cynicism than you garden variety political cynic can provide.  However, even for one like me who reacts to politics at all times with a constant level of simmering dislike, there are times that call for more dislike than normal.  This is such a time.

Let me back up for a minute a recount my political history.  I was raised in a left-wing household.  I was taught to believe that all things which the Republicans did were evil.  In 2000 I even campaigned for Ralph Nader.  (Yes, yes.)  During my college and graduate school years I grew up somewhat.  I realized that politics were more nuanced and complicated than the simplistic picture I was raised with would suggest.  I acknowledged that the Republicans were right about some things, including the basic fact that most government programs are unresponsive to change and inefficient.  At the same time, I still believed that the Democrats were right about other things, most notably foreign policy and the environment.  Most of all, I became aware that corruption was rampant throughout the political system, always had been, and always would be.  Politics naturally attracted inferior human beings.  Nonetheless it was a necessary evil, as a governed country was preferable to anarchy and a democratic republic was preferable to a dictatorship or oligarchy.  The intelligent approach is to do the best you can with the corrupt and selfish politicians that you have.

Within this framework, however, there’s still a possibility for politicians of varying quality.  In American history we have often had crises, and when they occurred we have often been lucky enough to have politicians who rose to the occasion, such as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.  On the other hand, we’ve had our share of lousy politicians and there have been occasions when their lousiness got so bad that it seriously threatened the welfare of our country.  We are currently dealing with such an occasion.  Moreover, the fault lies entirely with one party: the Republicans.

For the past 235 years, the United States government has always made good on its debts.  Now the Republicans are threatening to prevent the government from doing exactly that, starting on August 2.  I wrote a post a couple weeks ago explaining why, in my view, the Republicans are doing that.  It’s part of a political strategy to get the biggest spending cuts they can get, and viewed in that light it makes sense.  However, they have now taken the tactic too far.  Genuine fear about a U.S. government default is “roiling the markets”, as numerous newspaper articles have put it.  That’s bad.  The more the Republicans delay, the worse it will get.

Our reputation for paying our bills as a nation is one of our most valuable resources.  We have earned that reputation over more than two centuries.  To sacrifice it, or even pretend that you’re going to sacrifice it, would be utter idiocy.  What the Republicans are currently doing is wrong.  Therefore I use the mighty influence that I have accrued at this blog to urge the Republicans to stop it.  President Obama and the Democrats have already offered what should be, from their perspective, a very good deal.  They should take that deal right now, rather than letting the markets get roiled for another day.

I can explain the Republicans

The current political situation has grown so absurd that it’s hard to know what to say about it.  I like neither party but, like most folks, I can at least understand the Democrats.  Until recently I was completely bamboozled by the Republicans.  I understand why someone might be opposed to tax hikes.  What we’re seeing now, however, is Republicans who are unwilling to consider the possibility of even a tiny tax hike on very wealthy people.  In previous iterations of the budget debate, the Republicans opposed tax hikes but understood the stance as one thing in a large negotiation.  They would be willing to trade their support for the smallest tax hike they could get in exchange for concessions on other topics.  This was basic common sense.  It was how politics worked.  Now they’re just not willing to do it.

Needless to say, that’s not the only instance in which the Republicans are being inexplicable.  Their behavior with regards to spending is equally strange.  In 1995 the Pubs caused a government shutdown during budget negotiations with Bill Clinton.  The public blamed the Republicans and they lost big in the next election.  For years after that, they never considered shutting down the government again.  When it was time to negotiate a budget, they simply negotiated like reasonable people.  Then, in spring of this year, they went right back to threatening a shutdown, as if they had forgotten the lesson of 1995.  In that case they folded at the last minute, but the episode was still bizarre.

There was also Paul Ryan’s budget, which effectively gutted Medicare as a safety net for the elderly and replaced it with a privatized system.  Anyone with clear thinking ability and knowledge of the American electorate should be able to see that this is political suicide.  The Republicans have already lost one House seat because of this and they’re likely to lose many more.  They know it perfectly well.  After all, it was only five years ago that George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security not only failed, but also caused the entire Republican agenda to fail and lead to a plunge in Bush’s approval ratings, eventually costing the GOP the House, the Senate, and the Presidency.  The Republican leadership surely hasn’t forgotten this.  Why on earth would they want to repeat the same thing with Medicare?  I don’t like using the word “insane” because it’s one of the most overused words in the English language at this moment.  Most people simply call anyone who they disagree with insane.  But in a situation like this, an intelligent and honest person could legitimately wonder whether Republican leaders have lost their marbles.

I was thinking along those lines until a couple days ago, when I remembered this:

The point of this amusing little episode is that there are some circumstances where it’s to your advantage to make people believe that you’re genuinely nuts even when you aren’t.  The reason lies in the obscure branch of mathematics known as “game theory”.  In game theory you have two or more ‘players’ who each make a decision.  Based on the decisions of the players, each one gets a payout.  We assume that the players are seeking to maximize their payout.  The most famous scenario in game theory is the ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’, in which both players, by trying to get the best for themselves, earn a worse payout (longer prison terms) than if they had cooperated at personal expense.  A payoff matrix shows how this works.

There are many other scenarios in game theory, including the ‘battle of the sexes’ game.  In this one we have a man and a woman both choosing where to spending the evening.  The man would prefer a baseball game while the woman would prefer a ballet.  However, they want to spend the evening together, and the payoff matrix reflects this fact.

In this case, each side “wins” if they hold to their position while the other side caves.  However, if both of them hold strong then, in effect, they both lose.  What’s notable about this game is that it’s advantageous to be seen as hard-nosed and obstinate.  If the woman believes that the man is totally set on baseball and will never change his mind, it’s in her interest to choose baseball.  On the other hand, if she believes there’s a good chance he’ll change his mind, then she has reason to fight hard for the ballet.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with the Republicans.  The answer is that we can view the current budget debate as a ‘game’.  The players are the Democrats and the Republicans.  Strategies are to hold strong or to cave.  If both sides hold strong, then the United States will default on its debts, a financial disaster unmatched in American history.  Both sides would prefer to hold strong while seeing the other side cave.  Needless to say, neither side benefits from caving.  So the payoff matrix would look something like this.

(I created this image myself and I apologize for the fact that it’s not as spiffy as the other two, which I downloaded.)

So we see that it fits the same general pattern as the ‘battle of the sexes’.  In other words, each side benefits if it can convince the other that it will hold strong no matter what happens.  However, in this case the consequences if both sides hold strong are so awful that no sane person would seriously consider them.  A debt default is, from a financial perspective, the end of the world–just ask citizens of countries who have done it, such as Russia or Argentina.  So if you’re going to go the strategic route of convincing the other side that you’re going to hold strong and not negotiate under any circumstances, you need to convince the other side that you actually are crazy enough to do it.  Hence the Republicans, just like Cleavon Little in the Blazing Saddles clip, are putting on a show to convince the Democrats (and the rest of us) that they’re crazy enough and they just might do it.

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