Thursday, April 11, 2013

One Man's Take on Race in America

I have been a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates for years, reading his column on The Atlantic's website on a fairly regular basis.  He is such a mixed bag of obsessions -- politics, culture, literature, French, gaming -- and  there's always something interesting in what he writes.

You can catch a pretty candid series of pieces regarding the recent Brad Paisley/LL Cool J collaboration on Paisley's song, "Accidental Racist," here, here, and here.  Read up.  It's pretty great.  Money quote:

I just don't believe everyone should be engaged in a conversation [about race]. I strongly believe that people often have disparate interests. White racism is an actual interest held by actual people. Some people should be talked to. Other people must be defeated.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It Didn't Take Long

On a lark, I decided to check out what  highly-regarded, intellectual conservative writers were talking about today.  My first stop was National Review Online and Reihan Salam.  In the past I've read his work at The American Conservative and watched him as a guest on Bill Maher's show on HBO.  He's a passionate guy and very intelligent, even though I may disagree with him a lot.

Well, it didn't take long for me to find something with which I totally disagreed, something that was indicative of just how conservatives manipulate the shortness of Americans' memories to drive home a point that seeks to replace the truth with something completely false.  In his column today, Salam argues against the elimination of the capital gains tax preference, which is advocated by a couple of centrist legislators, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI).

Here's where Salam goes in for the kill to assert something that just isn't true:
Among conservatives, this last aspect of the Modified Zero Plan is likely to prove particularly unattractive, as there is a broad consensus on the center-right that while the capital gains tax preference is not an ideal policy, it is useful in that it counteracts other provisions of the tax code that discourage savings and investment
My italics.  See what he did there?  He asserted as a given that lower capital gains taxes acts as a counter-balance to other parts of the tax code that discourage savings and investment.  Which parts are those, exactly?  Would they be those parts of the code that taxed the highest incomes at somewhere over 90%?  Oh, wait, those tax brackets disappeared before 1963.  Would it be those parts of the tax code that shows  corporate taxes at 40%, which of course has stifled growth so much that corporate profits were at record lows this past year?  Oh, wait, corporate profits were at record highs last year!  As were the Dow Jones  and S&P 500 Indices.

But wait, he's talking about savings and investment, isn't he?  Well, how does he explain this chart, which shows personal savings rates declining over the years despite the fact that the top tax brackets kept on dropping and dropping, down to its lowest level ever in the past year?

Salam goes on to discuss "human capital," which I interpret to mean employment.  Apparently, the lower capital gains tax rate is supposed to "shield investment income from double taxation," so that "job creators" can invest in their businesses and hire more people.  Well, tax rates are at their lowest point ever and private jobs are slowly returning (last month's brutal numbers notwithstanding).  And when capital gains tax rates were equal to regular income, and unemployment figures were up and down much the same as they are now,  those tax rates stifled all kinds of job creation.

No, I think it's safe to say that Salam is pretty much blowing smoke up our asses, much the same way a hack like Tucker Carlson or Hugh Hewitt might.  I'm sure Salam wouldn't appreciate that comparison, but if the shoe fits...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The GOP's Reckoning Has Arrived

Oral arguments today at the Supreme Court regarding California's Proposition 8, which strongly suggest that the voter-approved law will be invalidated, along with a growing number of Republican politicians endorsing marriage equality, might trigger an existential crisis in the GOP.

Christian Post reports today that former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister and a Fox News host, told Newsmax today in an interview that the evangelical base of the party might "take a walk" if the party supports the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

Huckabee went on to say the following:
If we have subjective standards, that means that we're willing to move our standards based on the prevailing whims of culture.  I think politicians have an obligation to be thermostats, not just thermometers. They're not simply to reflect the temperature of the room, or the culture, as it were. They're to set the standards for law, for what's right, for what's wrong, understanding that not everybody's going to agree with it, not everybody's going to accept it.
I'm afraid Mr. Huckabee has it bass-ackwards.  Politicians do not set standards for law.  Politicians are elected by the people, and the Constititution of this country is of the people, by the people, and for the people.  The people get to set standards for law, in accordance with basic rights outlined in the Constitution.  Courts exist to interpret the laws that are created, and if a court rules against that which is popular among the people (which, in California in 2008, included a ban on marriage equality), then that popular majority has options within the law. 

However, popular opinion has changed in favor of equality, as the issue has become today's expression of the civil rights movement.  Time is about to run out on social conservatives' fear that the LGBT community will soon be seen as equal citizens in all respects and enjoy the full benefit of the Constitution.

I have written on this blog since 2008 that the GOP was headed for an ideological split, with social conservatives on one side and fiscal conservatives on another.  I honestly believe that the religious right needs its own party in order to enroll folks in their vision of what America should look like.  They will most likely be unsuccessful, which would mean their ultimate demise as a political movement.  As modernity renders their arcane ideas irrelevant, and as younger voters increasingly support less fundamentalism in politics, it will become clear to many Christians that their religion belongs back in their churches, not in the political arena.  Jesus, it's clear, was not a politician.  Render unto Caesar, etc....

What such a schism does for the Democrats is uncertain.  Some fiscally conservative Democrats might be peeled off, I think eventually we'll have a three-party system that renders clear majorities a thing of the past.  Coalition-building will become the new normal in American politics.  Think of it: Fiscal conservatives caucusing with progressives to push back an effort by libertarians (I know, probably unthinkable!).

Friday, February 8, 2013

Insanity Update

A little more than two months ago, I wrote about beginning the Insanity Workout program.  Starting with a Fitness Test, the program got progressively harder each week. Every other week was another Fitness Test, presumably to track my progress. 

I can't remember all the details of my workouts, but I will say this: I was very dutiful about the quality and quantity of my meals during the first week, sticking with 2,300 calories per day and eating five times, and avoiding heavy carbs, sugary treats, and slamming down lots of water every day.  During the program, however, I found I had to moderate my portions, and most of the time I was under 2,000 calories per day.  I also wasn't a Nazi about sweets, which probably hampered some of my weight loss.  After four weeks I had lost only four pounds.  I was extremely tired, frequently sore, and had some slight knee pain.

The fifth week of the program is Recovery Week, and during that week I was supposed to do six days of "Core, Cardio and Balance," but I was so wiped out, and I took off three days during that week before resuming.  This recovery workout was very difficult, but at least it wasn't all bouncing off the floor and throwing my body up and down.  The impact on my knees was minimal. 

Week 6 began the second half of the program, at which the workouts increased in time and intensity.  After the first day, however, my left knee was simply killing me, and I had to take another two days off.  I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to finish the program, but I latched onto the idea of doing as much low impact as possible, of turning the high-impact exercises into low-impact ones. For example, if the exercise had me leaping off the floor, I simply went up to my toes and back down again, avoiding the slam on my knees.  If I had to do a Leap of Death, I skipped it!  Luckily there were no moves that required me to twist or pivot on my feet, so that avoided other types of injury.  After a week or so of this, my knees fully recovered, and by Weeks 8 and 9, I was fine.  All in all, I missed seven full workout days, so I added Week 10 to add back in what I'd missed.

As far as nutrition goes, I pretty much abandoned the total discipline with the meals.  I got conscientious about what I ate, but I didn't eat five meals a day religiously.  I ate much smaller portions, and didn't feel hungry ever.  I also took two supplements in addition to a multi-vitamin every day: Glucosamine/Chondroitin complex, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA).  CLA is supposed to promote the building of lean muscle mass and burn fat.  I took it about 11 years ago when Lisa was pregnant with Max, but I can't remember if there was a benefit, but this time I noticed some accelerated slimming down after I took it.

By the end of the 10 week period, I'd lost just over 12 pounds, about halfway to my goal.  I had lost at least two inches off my waist.  My pants didn't fit me anymore.  I saw much less gut in front of me, although my spare tire was going to take a lot longer to be tamed.  I'm noticing definition in my abs -- I have a two-pack (so far)!  My legs are a lot more defined.  My stamina is greater than it was.  People who know me have told me they noticed slimming down from my face down my neck, and down to my torso. 

I also feel better than I've ever felt, and I'm sure I've added years to my life.  It was great to have Lisa join me on the journey.  She says she doesn't see any change in her appearance, but I do.  I think some after pictures might convince her.  In any event, she looks more beautiful to me than ever.

I was supposed to join a gym and work out for two months, but I dropped the ball on that and I never got around to it.  Instead, however, I've started the program all over again this week.  I've done three workouts so far this week, and I definitely feel better doing them than I did during Week 1.

When I reach my goal weight of 175 (10 pounds to go), I'll post up before and after pictures to go along with the posts.  Until then, Insanity all the way!