Monday, October 7, 2013

Gimmicks Will Not Save Us

It's 11:55 p.m. on Thursday, October 17.

Negotiations over raising the debt ceiling ran awry. House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama are no closer to a deal that they were weeks earlier.

Default is upon us. What can Obama do?

There must be a Plan B. Otherwise, I -- and a lot of people in Washington -- wouldn't be able to sleep at night. The consequences of the United States defaulting on its obligations are simply too terrible to contemplate. Even though it's in his interest to deny it, Obama surely has a way to disregard Congressional action and keep the bonds flowing.

The thing is, it might not matter. Any technique available to Obama on October 18 has flaws -- and will bring uncertainty to the global markets which could conceivably be almost as destructive as a default itself.

People invest in U.S. bonds because they're seen as being the safest investment on the planet. And, despite our recent troubles -- including the first downgrade in our credit ranking, from S&P -- people still do.

But if Obama is forced by an obstinate Congress to disregard the debt ceiling, that certainty will be gone. And not in a general, "What is the fate of the Republic" kinda way -- quite literally, people won't be sure if the bonds they're buying are good or not. They won't be sure what they're buying.

Tell me that won't send shock waves through the global bond markets, and through extension the entire world economy.

There's no loophole. No out. The Constitution clearly and unambiguously gives Congress control over federal spending, taxing and borrowing -- and offers no guidance about what is supposed to happen if one of those responsibilities conflicts with the other two.

Like it or not, the only option--really, the only option--is for Congress and Obama to work this out.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A News Story From The Future

May 28th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- The gravest constitutional crisis in American history shows no signs of resolution, as President Ted Cruz refused yet again to step down earlier this evening.

"The people elected me. I'm not leaving," Cruz said in a televised address. "I've broken no crimes. Every single action I've taken as president has followed the letter and the spirit of the law -- and no illegitimate vote from Congress can change that."

Cruz added some of the rhetorical flourishes which helped him ascend to the nation's highest office.

"I'm not leaving on a boat, I'm not leaving on a float," Cruz said.

Three weeks after the Senate voted to remove him following impeachment proceedings, Democratic lawmakers have begun to appeal to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hoping that the military may be able to resolve the situation, which has shaken American politics and law to its core.

On May 5, the House voted to initiate impeachment proceedings, claiming that Cruz's use of the 14th Amendment to slash government spending and shutter five Cabinet departments -- including Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Energy -- was a violation of Constitutional Law.

Cruz eliminated the departments after vetoing a debt ceiling increase passed by Congress. Attorney General Louie Gohmert claimed the 14th Amendment gave Cruz the power to slash expenditures to avoid a default on U.S. debt, even though they had been appropriated by Congress. Gohmert cited President Barack Obama's use of the 14th Amendment to borrow over what Congress had authorized in October of 2013. In that case, Congress failed to pass a debt limit hike despite the risk of default.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Why Policitians Should--Have To--Be Paid During A Shutdown

You've probably heard by now that one of the weird and outrageous little quirks of a government shutdown is that, while hundreds of thousands of public servants struggle to make ends meet, paychecks for members of Congress will still arrive right on time.

Why does this happen? More importantly, why is this allowed to happen? Why on Earth hasn't Congress passed a bill ensuring that senators and representatives--earning $174,000 a year--are in the same boat as rank-and-file employees.

You'd agree with that law. I agree with that law. I have a hard time imaging any sort of argument against that law. But it turns out writing a law like that is surprisingly difficult, and would likely be more trouble than it's worth. For better or worse, it's preferable to keep the paychecks for politicians coming.

First of all, the reason why. Others have already done a great job explaining this, so I'll just give the quick Reader's Digest version.

A shutdown is a failure of the government to pass a yearly appropriations bill. But congressional pay isn't part of the yearly appropriations bill. This is for two reasons:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why Jim Gordon Will Be Like Jimmy McNulty

What to make of the news that Fox plans to produce a prequel show about Batman ally Commissioner Gordon, entitled "Gotham?"

I thought about it. And thought about it some more. And the more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued. And the more I thought about Jimmy McNulty. Let me explain.

Jim Gordon is tied with Bruce Wayne himself as the oldest Batman character--which is to say, both he and Wayne are in the very first panel of "Detective Comics #27," the first-ever Batman story.

He isn't, typically, the central character, however--although he does find himself close to the action in some of the most beloved Batman stories. Alan Moore's seminal "The Killing Joke," for instance, focuses on the Joker's attempts to drive Gordon mad through horrific attacks on his daughter. And Frank Miller's iconoclastic, transformative "Batman: Year One" is often told from Gordon's perspective, as he navigates a crime-ridden, pre-Batman Gotham.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

No, Debt Ceiling Standoffs Aren't Unprecedented

"You have never in the history of the United States seen the threat of not raising the debt ceiling to extort a president or a governing party." -- President Barack Obama, Sept. 18, at the Business Roundtable
Obama's statement is sorta like saying fish are always found in the water -- it's mostly true and helpful without being literally true. (Some fish live most of their lives on the land.)

In this case, the problem with Obama's statement is a past Congress has demanded concessions from a past president--and the president gave in. A little bit.

It gets lost a bit in the shadow of the much more serious budget showdown of '95, but there was also a debt ceiling showdown in '96. You had the same ingredients--blustery ultimatums and calls for drastic government cuts.

But ultimately, the Republicans were bought pretty cheap. In March of 1996 a debt ceiling hike was passed, which included two items from the Contract for America, including the Congressional Review Act, which made it a tad easier for Congress to strike down executive branch regulations. (You can read more about this here.)

You could argue that the latter part was just some window dressing to make the Republicans' capitulation, after their threats, taste better going down.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

All the Unhappy Bat-Families

It wasn't because she was gay that Batwoman was denied matrimonial bliss, DC Comics co-publisher Dan Didio said on Saturday. It's because DC is against weddings. Or, specifically, Bat-weddings.

For those unfamiliar with the recent controversy, two writers for the Eisner-nominated Batwoman monthly series, J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman, recently quit in protest of what they claimed was constant last-minute meddling by DC Comics editors. Among the list of complaints--they were not allowed to show Batwoman, aka Kate Kane, actually marry her lesbian partner, (to whom she already was engaged to, in the issue "Batwoman #17"). This news spiraled into a controversy for DC--already reeling from the recent Orson Scott Card fiasco--and led to heated denunciations and, according to Williams, threats of violence towards specific DC publishers.

Speaking at a panel at the Baltimore Comic-Con to a few hundred DC fans Saturday morning, DiDio strongly denied that their decisions had anything to do with Kane's sexuality. Rather, it had to do with their philosophy about the nature of characters with the prefix "Bat." Since 2011's New 52 reboot, DC has maintained that characters in the Batfamily--(Batman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Batwing, Nightwing, etc.)--do not have "happy personal lives," DiDio said.

"They put on a cape and a cowl for a reason," he said. "They're committed to defending others, at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2013 Fantasy Football Team #2

QB: Cam Newton
WR: Calvin Johnson
WR: Victor Cruz
RB: Jamaal Charles
RB: Darren McFadden
W/R: James Jones
TE: Tony Gonzalez
K: Justin Tucker
D/ST: Denver
BN: Michael Vick
BN: Rashard Mendenhall
BN: Lance Moore
BN: Kenny Britt
BN: Bryce Brown
BN: Vick Ballard

Monday, August 26, 2013

11 Pics Of Batman Reacting To The News About #Baffleck

When Warner Brothers announced on August 22 that Ben Affleck -- the actor/director best known for playing jovial Boston brahs, lame Marvel action heroes and gangsters who inhabit the worst movie of all time -- would play Batman in 2015, the reaction on Twitter was immediate and furious.

But the ferocity of the Twitter-storm was nothing compared to the reaction of the Caped Crusader himself when he got the news.

We visited some of the DC's 52 universes and caught a few pics of the Dark Knight as he absorbed the news....

Can Batman Be Black?

After Warner Brother's maddening decision last Thursday to cast Ben Affleck as Batman in the upcoming Batman/Superman flick, movie critic Matt Zoller Seitz jokingly mentioned Idris Elba as the ideal choice.

Some quick Googling showed that not all Elba-as-Batman fans aren't joking. They've taken to editorials, Buzzfeed, and Facebook to push the statuesque and intense British (and black) actor as an ideal Caped Crusader choice. Elba, best known as the enterprising drug dealer Stringer Bell in "The Wire," has become a staple of Hollywood summer flicks, including this year's "Pacific Rim" and last year's "Prometheus." (He's likely to be in the Oscar discussion later this year for playing Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.")

But that raises the issue--can you have a black Batman? This is something that pops up in superhero entertainment every couple of years. In fact, Elba himself has been at the center of it before, when he played a Norse god in "Thor." And the Fantastic Four reboot has generated some controversy with reports that Michael B. Jordan, a black actor, will play Johnny Storm.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My 2013 Fantasy Football Team #1

QB Colin Kaepernick
RB Arian Foster
RB LeSean McCoy
FLEX DeMarco Murray
WR Roddy White
WR Marques Colston
TE Tony Gonzalez
D/ST Bears
K Justin Tucker
BE Miles Austin
BE Ben Roethlisberger
BE Denarius Moore
BE Le'Veon Bell
BE Isaac Redman
BE Chris Givens

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Some Spoiler-Riddled Thoughts On "Star Trek Into Darkness"

"Star Trek Into Darkness" is fun. It's a muscular, rousing piece of summer entertainment of the sort that J.J. Abrams has mastered.

I find it almost impossible to say more without spoiling the myriad of plot surprises built into its plot. Others apparently aren't having this difficulty, so feel free to read them if you're spoiler-phobic.

Believe me, this movie has surprises.

So seriously, if you don't want to have your surprises stolen, stop reading. I'm not talking about a spoiler here or a spoiler there. I'm going to spoil the whole darn thing, right till the end. Might as well go whole hog here.

This is your last chance.



Sunday, February 24, 2013

OSCAR PICKS

Best Picture: Lincoln
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway
Best Director: Steven Spielberg
Best Original Screenplay: Amour
Best Adopted Screenplay: Lincoln
Best Animated Film: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Foreign Film: Amour
Best Cinematography: Lincoln
Best Editing: Lincoln
Best Production Design: Life of Pi
Best Costume Design: Les Miserables
Best Makeup: The Hobbit
Best Original Score: Life of Pi
Best Origina Song: Adele Skyfall
Best Sound Mixing: Les Miserables
Best Sound Editing: Les Miserables
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Best Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
Best Documentary Short Subject: Open Heart
Best Short Film, Animated: Paperman
Best Short Film, Live Action: Curfew

Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's Weak, But the Reid-McConnell Filibuster Reform Package Is More Substantial Than You Think

Depressed about the newly announced filibuster reform deal? You're in good company. Even though it will likely pass in a landslide, it apparently pleases no one--especially those who were hopeful that at long last, the political stars were aligned to truly change the senatorial institution which has so often stymied progressive (and some non-progressive) causes.

Well, fear not. True, this legislation will do little to change the fundamental of the Senate--but, truthfully, that was never a significant possibility. Even the most ardent reform advocates were pushing for changes which were little more than theatrics. And, quietly, this reform proposal would chip away at the Senate's institutional culture of stagnation.

The meat of the bill would reduce the amount of debate required for a bill or nomination which has already passed the filibuster hurdle. It would also make it easier for the majority leader to bring a bill or nomination to the floor--either by striking a deal with the minority leader a bipartisan group of 14 other senators, or by ensuring that the minority will have the opportunity to offer a limited number of amendments. (Under normal order, the majority leader controls amendments.) The bill could still be filibustered when it comes to the floor.