For fans of good TV

Alright, all you lovers of CSI and Two and a Half Men can skip to the next post :-).

Anyway, Chuck Klosterman has a really interesting piece (thanks to Big Steve for the FB link) arguing why Breaking Bad is actually better than The Wire, Sopranos, and Mad Men.  He’s wrong, of course:

There’s never been a more obstinate fan base than that of The Wire; it’s a secular cult that refuses to accept any argument that doesn’t classify The Wire as the greatest artistic endeavor in television history.

Well, duh, that’s because the Wire is the greatest artistic endeavor in television history.  Nonetheless, it is generally a terriffic and spot-on analysis of what has made each of these four shows so great and why they are head and shoulders above their peers.  Definitely check it out.

My last post on Sarah Palin?

No way– still too much fun.  But Paul Waldman writes a persuasive little piece that her time is past.  I have to admit, I was pretty much shocked to see her on the cover of Newsweek yesterday.  Really?  This is what it takes to sell a newsweekly these days?  Waldman:

Nevertheless, Newsweek just put Palin on the cover, with the shocking revelation that if you ask her if she can win the presidency, she’ll say yes. And also she doesn’t like members of the news media, who have totally done her wrong, she’ll be happy to tell you. And she’s misinformed about inflation, specifically the price of Slim Jims…

In fact, I’ll go so far as to predict that this issue of Newsweek is the last time she’ll appear on the cover of a news magazine. Ever. The “Gosh, what’s Sarah Palin gonna do?!?” period has come to its end. She’ll probably try to produce the same media interest four years from now, but it won’t be nearly as successful. There are only so many times you can write that story.

It’s been a crazy and often fascinating ride, but Palin really has little more to offer as a politician or cultural figure. What’s she going to do next – say something ignorant? Complain about liberals? Provide some unseemly family drama? We’ve seen it all before, and it gets less interesting every time. Unless she goes on trial for murder, most Americans just aren’t going to care.

I think Waldman is very much onto something.  I, for one, will very much miss her.  How sad to think that when I’m teaching my courses 10 years from now that most students wouldn’t even know who Sarah Palin is.  Now, that’s a loss.

Amazon vs. state sales tax

I buy a ton of stuff on-line.  I love that I almost never have to pay sales tax (one reason I almost never buy from B&N, which, unlike Amazon, has a physical presence in NC and must charge sales tax).  That said– this is wrong.  At this point, there’s really no good reason to give on-line stores such a competitive advantage.   Farhad Manjoo has a nice piece on this in Slate.  My favorite part:

There are two powerful arguments in the tax debate between Amazon.com and the state of California. On the one hand, there’s simple fairness. For years, online retailers—which weren’t required to collect sales tax on purchases from Californians—have enjoyed a huge advantage over physical stores, which must collect sales tax.A $1,000 TV from your local Best Buy costs about $1,100 with tax; at Amazon, it costs exactly $1,000. Technically, residents who purchase stuff from out-of-state online stores must pay a “use tax” on the merchandise on their annual tax return, but almost nobody does that. Late last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that forces large online retailers to collect taxes from residents. The government estimates that the legislation will bring in more than $1 billion a year in revenue. Tax proponents also argue that the law will let the state’s businesses compete against online stores, thereby creating local jobs.

And then there’s the other side of the argument: ARE YOU KIDDING, YOU WANT TO RAISE MY PRICES, WTF???

Yeah, that’s pretty much it.  One of my former students is actually a lobbyist, who works for Amazon’s anti- sales tax crusade in NC.  He went into the whole Amazon pitch one day.  Needless, to say, I was not impressed with the quality of the arguments.  I actually said to myself (not out loud, I do have a bit of a filter) “do legislators actually buy this BS.”  Manjoo’s conclusion:

The reasons for Amazon’s tax battle are obvious. It’s not that it can’t institute a sensible tax collection regime, but that it won’t, because it has no incentive to do so. Amazon’s position may be indefensible, but it has a trump card. Raise your hand if you want higher prices. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Well, if it means fairer competition and more state revenue, you just heard my hand go up.

Quote of the day– facebook while driving

My public policy class was discussing laws about cell phone usage while driving.   I thought this contribution– from a firefighter– was especially interesting:

I can’t begin to tell you the number of car accidents that we respond to due to cell phone usage. The last fatality we ran had Facebook pulled up on her phone in her lap.

What is Obama thinking?

I was going to go with a simple “chart of the day,” but felt more (longer post, but bear with me) needed to be said about this (Via Ezra):

What’s going on there?!  Apparently, Obama has been willing to give away the store on the Bush tax cuts.

What Obama offered Boehner was an opportunity to take the Bush tax cuts off the table. So though $800 billion in revenue sounds sizable, it’s only half as much in total revenue as the White House’s April proposal, two-fifths as much as Simpson-Bowles wanted, and one-fifth what we’d get if the Bush tax cuts expire next year.

Yowza!  But Republicans rejected this.  Huge tactical error according to the usual sources. Ezra again:

In rejecting that deal, which liberals would have loathed, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) might have inadvertently saved President Obama from facing a primary challenge. But more to the point, he might have locked in higher taxes down the road. Few noticed that the White House offer of $1 trillion in revenues in return for $3 trillion of spending cuts would have taken the expiration of the Bush tax cuts off of the table. That would mean the tax debate concluded this year, a time when the debt ceiling gives the GOP leverage, rather than next year, when the Bush tax cuts are set to expire and the White House has most of the leverage.

In other words: If Republicans could have agreed with Democrats now, taxes would have gone up by $1 trillion. If they can’t agree with Democrats next year, they’ll go up by more than $4 trillion. And Republicans had a better hand this year than they will next year. I expect they’ll come to wish they’d played it.

To which, one can only ask, “what are the Republicans thinking?!”  I’m not expert on things Middle-Eastern, but I’ve heard it said on a number of occasions that the Palestinians had a deal on the table where they got about 95% of what they wanted from Israel, and then rejected it.  This seems about the same to me.

According to Ezra, liberals should be grateful to Eric Cantor for killing the deal, as it is full of stuff liberals hate:

Here’s what appears to have been in the $4 trillion deal they offered the Republicans: A two-year increase in the Medicare eligibility age. Chained-CPI, which amounts to a $200 billion cut to Social Security benefits. A tax-reform component that would raise $800 billion and preempt the expiration of the Bush tax cuts — which would mean, for those following along at home, that the deal would only include half as much revenue as the fiscal commission recommended, and when you add the effect of making the Bush tax cuts a permanent part of the code, would net out to a tax cut of more than $3 trillion when compared to current law.

Okay, chained-CPI ain’t the worst thing in the world, but, yes I’m a liberal and I do hate this deal.  Thank you Eric Cantor indeed.

Finally, Kevin Drum suggests that he knows what Obama is thinking and that’s the lens through which we need to look:

His primary position is that he really, truly wants to make a significant deal that includes both large spending cuts and moderate (but still substantial) tax increases. Once you understand this, a lot of seemingly inexplicable things suddenly make sense.

So, why is this what Obama wants?

I don’t know all the reasons for this. But my guesses are fairly conventional. (1) Obama truly believes that the long-term debt is a problem, and this is a good opportunity to do something about it with bipartisan cover. (2) He wants Republicans on record as supporting a tax increase. Why? Perhaps he believes that once he’s forced Republicans away from an absolutist position, that position is gone for good and it will make future negotiations less hostile. (3) He’s courting independents, and independents want a deal that gets concessions from both sides.

Hmmm.  Sounds about right, I suppose.  I think I’d be a lot happier, though, if I felt like Obama sincerely cared more about making the smartest policy choices (and getting people back to work) and less about looking bipartisan and having independents love him.

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