Archive for July, 2013


As we head toward another round of debt ceiling and threats of government shutdowns silliness, I think it might be good to try to put some of the proposed spending cuts by the GOP in perspective.  The United States government is a major operation, so any budgetary item you could look at is going to have a large dollar amount attached to it within the context of, say, our household incomes.  And at some point when our minds see big numbers, it just starts to translate them all as ‘big’, regardless of how they may compare to each other.  So I thought it might be helpful to look at the cuts scaled down to what we may consider more normal levels.

So let’s say we take some of the proposed cuts and divide them by a billion.  You would get something like this:  Subsidy for PBS: $0.45, Save American’s Treasures Program: $0.03, National Endowment For The Arts: $0.17, National Endowment For The Humanities: $0.17, Hope VI Program (public housing): $0.25, Amtrak Subsidies: $1.57, Community Development Fund:  $4.50, Department of Energy Grants to States For Weatherization:  $0.53, New Starts Transit: $2.00, Intercity And High Speed Rail Grants:  $2.50…….and on and on.  But you get the idea.  Now compare these items to the size of the fiscal budget scaled the same way: $3,540 for FY2012.  Or how about the national debt:  about $16,880.  It’s pretty easy to see that these are not the things that are busting the budget.

So when somebody says that Republicans are not serious about solving any sort of budget problem and just using that as a pretense to cut things they don’t like, this is why.  Unless you start looking at actual big-ticket items such as military spending ($929 FY2011) or Medicare/Medicaid ($802 FY2012), then you really aren’t making any serious cuts.  Of course, you could also look to increase revenues, but I know that’s just crazy talk.

Now somebody may say if it’s not much money, then recipients won’t miss it then.  But that’s kind of silly too.  The U.S. wouldn’t miss it much, but the recipients certainly would.  It’s like Bill Gates deciding to stop giving an annual gift of $500,000 to a charity.  To a man worth $67 billion, $500,000 is not going to make a big difference.  But to a charity worth much less than that, losing out on $500,000 could be a crushing blow.

Certainly there would be some people who would say that the government shouldn’t fund something like the National Endowment For The Arts even it was just $500 (in real terms).  And that’s an okay debate to have.  But that’s a different debate than a debate about deficits and debt.  So it shouldn’t be had under false pretenses.  Of course, having honest debate in government is way too much to ask for.



Just a few thoughts on the recently concluded George Zimmerman trial:

  • I agree with those that have said that the legal system makes for a lousy forum to discuss broad societal issues.  The focus of a legal trial is just so narrow.  (For instance, the words ‘racial profiling’ could not be used during the trial.  For the broad question of why what happened that day happened, this certainly appeared to have been a factor.  But on the narrow question of whether a crime was committed, it was irrelevant.  One citizen racially profiling another is not illegal.  It’s just wrong.)
  • The bar for using deadly force in self-defense has been set too low in too many states.  For instance, in Florida, self-defense does not turn on what is reasonable but on what the shooter can reasonable believe.  So it matter not if Zimmerman reasonably needed to use deadly force to protect himself.  It only matter if he could reasonably believe that he needed to use deadly force.  That’s a much lower standard.
  • Also, even though you wouldn’t have known it from many of the articles regarding this case that were out there, the matter of who started the fight was irrelevant as a legal matter in Florida.  As long as the above standard was met (that Zimmerman believed he needed to use deadly force to protect himself), it matters not if he was the one who may have started the fight in the first place.
  • Now add the ‘beyond the reasonable doubt’ standard.  So to convict, the jury had to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman could not have reasonable believed that he could be caused great bodily harm without the use of deadly force.  Now add that Zimmerman clearly had lacerations and a broken nose from the altercation.  Given all that, at least I can understand how a jury could have reached the conclusion that they did.
  • However, given these laws, it looks like if you want to get away with murder, a pretty good way to try is to start a fight with an unarmed man.
  • Regardless of what your opinion of the trial’s outcome, I don’t see how you can look at the events starting on that tragic day all the way up to now and not think as a society we don’t have some large issues we need to work out.

This article from the American Prospect’s Scott Lemiux makes the points I am trying to better than I.