Tag Archives: Wall Street Journal

The Pentagon Spends More on War Than All 50 States Combined Spend on Health, Education, Welfare, and Safety

I realize that the US is a big country and it has a lot of land that it needs to defend, but that seems like an unbelievable figure, doesn’t it? More on war than all 50 states spend on health, education, welfare, and safety — combined!

That’s just one of the many alarming statistics that I found in this post from Business Insider from 3 years ago. As it’s 3 years old, I don’t know if the the title of this post remains true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s far off. I first went digging on this issue because one of the things I’ve been meaning to write about is how much the US spends on defense.

 

As the above graphic shows, the US spends a lot on its military and not just a lot in terms of the amount of money it spends, bit it spends so much more than the country that spends the second most, China. In fact, the US spends more on its military than the next ten countries — combined!

Do you think that the US spends too much on defense spending? If I were answering honestly, I’d have to say probably. According to a Gallup poll from February of this year, a plurality of American seem to agree. And it’s not just average Americans who think the US spends too much on defense, but scholars of international relations.

That’s almost 75% of scholars of international relations who believe that the US spends too much on defense. The post where it comes from even parsed out some of the different types of international relations scholars. For instance, over half of “realists” believe that the US spends too much on defense and “realists” view international relations through the lens that the primary aim of a country (but they would call them states) is survival.

There are probably a whole host of reasons why the US defense budget has inflated to the size that it is. There was one answer I found on Reddit that seemed particularly enlightening:

Because the US military doesn’t just exist to defend the invasion of the physical United States.

As the country with the biggest economy in the world, the US has a vested interest in maintaining a global environment that favorable to its interests.

This means having the power to impose its will (for better or worse) on other countries that act against the US’s interests. To do this the US has to spend an incredible amount of money on research and development to make sure that it has the best military technology while also projecting force abroad to make sure its interests are maintained.

Nonetheless, in a parallel universe, it would be interesting to see how the citizens of the US would survive/thrive in a world where defense budget for the the US is cut in half and that money is redirected to other important areas like health and education.

Try New Things: My Reintroduction to Merlot

Several months ago, I bought tickets to Quidam — one of the Cirque du Soleil shows. Because I happened to buy the tickets through Ticketmaster, I ended up on some mailing list. One of the ads that I got in the mail was rather enticing (at least it seemed like it) offer for wine. It was an offer to WSJwine. At first, I thought it a bit strange to be considering buying wine through the Wall Street Journal (clearly not one of their core competencies!), but some of the wines in the list sounded pretty tasty.

I did the math on the number of bottles of wine I was going to get (15) and the price I was to pay ($69.99) and it came out to less than $5/bottle. As there were at least half of the wines in there that I was interested in trying, I thought it was a pretty good deal. (This amounted to paying approximately $10/bottle for the bottles I wanted to try and I was comfortable with that.)

As I said, about half of the bottles I wanted to try, while the other half were just icing on top. After drinking a few of the bottles that I knew (or thought) I would enjoy, I thought it might be time to try one of the bottles I was less sure of. In fact, one of these bottles was a Merlot. I didn’t remember liking Merlot (I have a tendency towards Italian wine — maybe it’s because of my heritage), but since I had the bottle and these wines were supposed to be award-winning, I thought I’d give it a try. (Note: this is different from the sunk cost fallacy. Had I taken a sip and not liked it, but continued to drink, that would have been the sunk cost fallacy. Simply having a glass from a bottle of wine that I was unsure as to whether I’d like is more along the lines of ‘openness to experience.’)

After pouring the glass and taking a sip… I liked it!

I was pleasantly surprised. I used to remember not liking Merlot, but it’s possible that my experience with it was when I was younger before my wine palette had developed. I’m certainly no sommelier, but I’d like to *think* that I’ve developed a sense for the kind of wine that I like and don’t, which I *think* is reasonable even taking into account some of the research that may run counter to that.

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My point in telling you this story is that I tried something new (or at least something that I was unsure as to whether I’d like). What have you done lately that’s new and different? What have you tried recently that has expanded your horizons (even if it’s only slightly)? If the answer to those questions is nothing, then might I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try something.

 

Political Implications of the SCOTUS Decision on the Voting Rights Act

More than a week ago, the Supreme Court of the United States rendered a decision on a case that had implications for the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The Court ruled that the formula from Section 4 of the VRA was unconstitutional. The decision has certainly enraged liberals and the political left as is clear in Justice Ginsburg‘s dissent:

[T]he Court’s opinion can hardly be described as an exemplar of restrained and moderate decision making. Quite the opposite. Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.

Because of this outrage, I’ve seen some people argue that this decision was good for liberals/democrats because it will ignite those potentially disenfranchised people to vote. From Ross Douthat:

Well, to begin with, voter identification laws do not belong to the same moral or legal universe as Jim Crow. Their public purpose, as a curb to fraud, is potentially legitimate rather than nakedly discriminatory, and their effects are relatively limited. As Roberts’s majority opinion noted, the voter registration gap between whites and blacks in George Wallace’s segregationist Alabama was 50 percentage points.

… But voter ID laws don’t take effect in a vacuum: as they’re debated, passed and contested in court, they shape voter preferences and influence voter enthusiasm in ways that might well outstrip their direct influence on turnout. They inspire registration drives and education efforts; they help activists fund-raise and organize; they raise the specter of past injustices; they reinforce a narrative that their architects are indifferent or hostile to minorities.

W.W. from The Economist finds Douthat’s analysis “quite plausible.” Both articles referenced the same information I talked about yesterday: the missing white voter.

I don’t know that I necessarily agree with this assessment.

In Wisconsin a couple of years ago, citizens were pretty excited about recalling Governor Scott Walker. Some folks were really upset by Gov. Walker’s actions on collective bargaining. Democrats, Gov. Walker is a Republican, thought that they could seize this opportunity to recall the Governor. There were over 1 million signatures to recall the Governor. It seemed like there was lots of momentum and people engaged in the recall. However, during the recall election of 2012, Gov. Walker won more of the vote than he did in the gubernatorial election of 2010.

There’s another example from this past election: The Affordable Care Act. Otherwise, known as “ObamaCare.” In March 2012, when the Supreme Court heard the arguments for the case, Karl Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

This week’s historic Supreme Court hearings on President Obama’s health-care overhaul will have huge political ramifications.

Then, in June, when the decision was rendered, there was this from The Weekly Standard:

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare, the principal choice now facing Americans on November 6 will be whether to keep Obamacare or to repeal it.

Republicans and conservatives thought that ObamaCare was going to give them the chance they needed to have a Republican elected President. It’s safe to say that it didn’t turn out the way they wanted. Not only did Republicans not elect a Republican President, but they also lost seats in the Senate (when they anticipated winning more seats).

Neither of these examples perfectly map onto the VRA decision, but it seems to me that there’s a bit of an overreaction in assuming that this decision is going to be a lightning rod for Democrats. I’d say that it’s “too early to tell” how this will affect the upcoming 2014 and 2016 elections. For now, the one of the only things that can be said about the political implications of the VRA: We’ll see…

What is “the Economy,” Anyway?

Earlier this morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published a bunch of figures, which collectively is known as the jobs report. The consensus around the numbers seems to be that the news is ‘positive’ for the economy. Hooray! Within the last hour, the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 14,000 for the first time in almost 6 years. Hooray again! After hearing about these two bits of news, I went on a bit of a rant on Twitter about “the economy.”

At times, this can be a bit bothering — listening to someone opine about the economy when they’re not really specifically pointing to the part of the economy that’s disturbing to them. Part of me wonders if this is because the person doesn’t know what they’re talking about and they’re just repeating the headlines they’ve read in the paper that day or something they heard the newsman say on TV).

The economy is vast — really vast. Let’s just look at the definition on Wikipedia for a moment:

An economy consists of the economic system of a country or other area; the laborcapital, and land resources; and the manufacturingproductiontradedistribution, and consumption ofgoods and services of that area.

Labor, capital, land resources, manufacturing, production, trade, distribution, and consumption — that’s a lot of areas rolled into one! My guess is that when most people talk about the economy, they’re usually referring to that first part: labor. Their perspective on the economy is viewed through the lens of “do I have a job, do my friends have jobs, do other people have jobs, etc.” In this way, when unemployment is high, the economy is “down” or not doing so well.

The ironic part here is that today, with unemployment at 7.9%, the economy could be seen as doing quite well. I mentioned in the tweets above (and earlier in the post) that the Dow broke the 14,000 barrier for the first time in nearly 6 years. That’s pretty substantial as many other folks use the Dow as a proxy for how the economy is doing. “Is the stock market up, then the economy must be doing well…”

Just like unemployment is one facet of the “labor” area of the economy, the stock market could be seen as one facet of the “capital” area of the economy. Another important facet of the “capital” area of the economy: liquidity (cash).

A couple of days ago, Ezra Klein at the Washington Post had an important graph showing the rise in liquid assets over the last 20 years or so. The chart shows a steady (and quick!) rise in liquidity. In fact, liquidity has nearly tripled in the last 20 years! Why does this matter? Well, all that cash on the balance sheet of corporation’s doesn’t do any good for “the economy” nor does it do any good for the unemployment number of 7.9%. If it were up to me, I think that Congress needs to do something to incentivize the corporations for spending all that cash, which represents 11.3% of GDP! While I understand the Keynesian argument for stimulus spending, to me, it appears that coaxing all of that money back into the economy would be the most effective form of stimulus.

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While it may seem that I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent, I just wanted to illustrate that “the economy” can represent a number of things to a number of people. The next time you hear someone talking to you about the economy, double-check with them the part of the economy they’re referencing.

You Need To Seek Out Ideas and Opinions That Are Different From Your Beliefs

[Editor’s Note: This post’s title was changed on September 16th from “if you’re a conservative, tell me which liberals you read: if you’re a liberal, tell me which conservatives you read.”]

I was born and raised in Canada and really didn’t start paying attention to politics until I moved to the US, so most of my understanding of politics comes through the lens of American politics. Watching the Democrats and the Republicans fight (bicker?) year after year starts to get intolerable. As , many American agree with this sentiment.

Part of this is a result of our to seek out opinions that confirm our own previously held beliefs. That is, if one is more liberal, they are probably more inclined to watch MSNBC and/or read the New York Times. Similarly, if one is more conservative, they are probably more inclined to watch FOX News and/or read the Wall Street Journal. There’s no “good” or “bad” here, though I would .

So, if we know that we have a tendency to seek out opinions that confirm our previously held beliefs, it would behoove us to intentionally seek out opinions that we know are counter to our own! That sounds a lot easier than it actually is — especially in today’s world of RSS, Twitter, Facebook, and personalized news.

Not to pick on Facebook, but the friends you have on Facebook, more than likely, share your political affiliation. It’s just natural for us to befriend those and even if you have a few friends from the “other side,” the news that they share on Facebook will most likely: a) get drowned out by all your other friends’ sharing news; or b) won’t be elevated to the top of your newsfeed because you tended not to click on the links provided by these friends.

While I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with it, I do think that there’s something that we should be doing about it. If you’re a conservative, there are a critical mass of people out there who think that your opinion on issues of the day are wrong. If you’re a liberal, there are a critical mass of people out there who think that your opinion on issues of the day are wrong. What are you doing to try to understand why they think your opinion is wrong?

And yes, there are things that you can do.

Lifehacker proposed to do this:

  • Get random reading content delivered to your inbox
“The easiest, no hassle way to get a random selection of news is to have it delivered right to your inbox.”
  • Automatically get different points of view for articles you read
“When you’re browsing the news it’s easy to stick with the sites you know. Sometimes that means you’re missing an entirely different point of view.”
  • Randomize your start page
“Your browser’s home page is a great place to dump interesting and random content for your accidental and automatic discovery. Obviously you don’t want to do this on your work computer in case you get distracted, but it’s a good way to discover new things when you have the time.”

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Head on over to the for more details and specific suggestions (for your start page). There’s one more suggestion I want to make (as it’s something that I do): Twitter. Instead of just following/reading news from people/accounts that I know are similar to my previously held beliefs, I have sought out those accounts that often discuss the issues from a perspective that is not native to me. This way, I’m able to read about the news from an entirely different perspective and from one that I may not have considered were it not for someone giving words to it.

So, I ask: if you’re a conservative, tell me who are the liberals that you read — if you’re a liberal, tell me who are the conservatives that you read.

Behavior of Sports Fan(atic)s Rival Behavior of Religious Fanatics

A couple of days ago as I was driving into town, I heard the guy on the radio talking about some sort of . Given the , my attention wasn’t immediately tuned into what was happening. As the reporter expanded upon the story, I was appalled. The reporter proceeded to tell the listeners that one, , 42-year old and San Francisco Giants’ fan, is showing signs of brain damage after having been severely beaten by, Los Angeles Dodgers fans.

The history of violence involving fans is well documented, and typically, violence in spectator sports is more closely associated with football (or soccer for those folks in the US and Canada). The last incident of “fan violence” in baseball was in August of 2009, when a at and hit, Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder, Shane Victorino. The outfielder had some beer land on him, which is unacceptable of course, but other than that, nothing too serious.

Some of the more recent incidents of violence include a match between Italy and Serbia in October of 2010. The start of the game was delayed over half an hour. Once the game got underway, before they were ten minutes into the 1st half, a flare was thrown onto the field causing more rioting. The game was called and one team was later awarded the victory based on the fans that were causing trouble.  In March of 2010 during a game, climbed over the glass, into the bench of the opposing team, and proceeded to strike one of the goalies over the head several times with a stick. The goalie had to leave the bench area, as blood was running down his face, and he was later diagnosed with a concussion. If you’re interested, there’s a .

On the face of these myriad incidents of violence by fans in sports, I can’t help but think of the true meaning of the word fan. The word fan, comes from the word fanatic, which means, “. . .” In my opinion, these fans are definitely exhibiting “extreme enthusiasm” in support of their team. In the definition I provided, I left out five words that appear after the word zeal. These five words: “as in religion or politics.”

When I hear about these horrendous acts of violence committed in the “name of one’s team,” I can’t help but make the connection to another brand of fanaticism — religious fanaticism. After the events of the world was led to believe that these attacks were committed by religious fanatics (and that may well be the case, but I don’t think anyone can be absolutely certain of any of the explanations for what happened). Since then, opening up the or the to find an article about someone killing in the name of religion has become somewhat normalized because of how often it happens. Is there really a big difference between religious fanaticism and sports fanaticism?

If there is, to me, the difference is negligible, and I for one, think this is awful. Fans identify with their teams so much so that they feel compelled to harm another human being! I was an athlete and I can tell you, after the game is over, life still goes on. You go on and eat your meals, sleep, read books, and do all of the other things that people do. To some fans, when the game ends, their life, in a way, ends. I think this kind of attachment to sports is unhealthy. Similarly, I think the attachment to religion that is displayed by those who believe they are doing right by their religion by killing in the name of their deity is also a little bit too far. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the thinking that goes into their decision and prosper in the afterlife, but it is my opinion, that there is never a valid reason to kill another human being, (or one’s self for that matter).