The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

Archive for February, 2011

The Right’s War on Peas and Carrots

Posted by demkid on February 23, 2011

On the most recent Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill and his panel spent a significant amount of time discussing the current fight over the budget for FY 2011 (or what’s left of it).  As we saw last week, the House Republicans (with zero Democratic votes) passed a budget resolution filled with drastic cuts to numerous government agencies and programs, and thereby fulfilled their arbitrary campaign promise to cut $100 billion from the President’s proposed spending levels.  Bill, as a way to crudely illustrate the Republican strategy, pulled out a dinner platter which represented U.S. spending as a whole: heaping piles of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese represented social security, medicare/medicaid, and defense spending.  Instead of attempting to tackle these huge chunks of our budget, however, Congressional Republicans decided that they would instead go after the tiny corner of mixed vegetables which represents non-security discretionary spending.  In the House Resolution, peas and carrots like home heating assistance for low-income families, medical research at the National Institutes of Health, Pell Grants, assistance for homeless veterans, and Planned Parenthood funding, were all cut in a frenzy.  At the same time, Republicans easily avoided cost-effective cuts like reductions in the billions of dollars in annual subsidies to oil companies.  It was truly a triumph for partisan ideology.  While these types of domestic programs may represent the peas and carrots of our budget when it comes to a percentage of the overall “meal”, when one considers the fact that they save lives and provide essential services to the American public, their importance seems more analogous to the meat and potatoes of Bill’s not-so-well-balanced dinner.

Perhaps the clearest example of the all-out ideological attack on a tiny part of the budget which provides a huge return on its investment is the attempt to slash the Environmental Protection Agency:

H.R. 1 cuts the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by almost a third and hamstrings the EPA’s ability to protect the environment and Americans’ health. For example, the measure prevents the EPA from protecting communities from mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from cement plants, leaving thousands of children exposed and at risk of asthma, slowed brain development and other neurological disorders. The EPA safeguard that the measure blocks would have reduced mercury pollution by more than 90 percent and saved 2,500 lives each year.

Some of the other numerous provisions in the House Resolution targeting the environment and public safety would: interfere with the EPA’s ability to limit toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants, exempt oil companies from Clean Air Act review for drilling in the Arctic, prohibit the EPA from setting new health standards limiting coarse particulate matter in the air we breathe, stop the EPA from implementing certain portions of the Clean Water Act, thereby threatening drinking water and potentially leaving wetlands unprotected from pollution, and Eliminate EPA funding that would enable the agency to use the Clean Air Act to curb greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons.

The EPA’s budget represents about 0.1% of total spending, yet House Republicans have been eager to attack policies and programs at every turn, and are quick to claim that EPA regulations threaten jobs.  The GOP needs to realize that their radical attacks on environmental protection just aren’t in line with either the American public or the facts:

The many people who were frustrated with government in the 2010 elections and voted for Tea Party members probably did not realize they were voting to “gut” environmental protections that Americans have enjoyed for the past several decades. A recent poll about proposals to weaken Clean Air Act rules indicates that members of Congress pushing to weaken environmental protection are distancing themselves from the electorate. Meanwhile the proposed budget cuts bear a striking resemblance to the Santa wish-list of K Street coal, chemical, oil and gas lobbyists. These lobbyists came late to the Tea Party, but made up for their tardiness with dollars.

The environmental and economic benefits provided by EPA’s work are visible in communities across America, ranging from reduced smog to cleaner waters and the all but end of indiscriminate hazardous waste dumping. These improvements have led to billions of dollars in health benefits that even the George W. Bush Administration catalogued. The dollars these safeguards have saved come primarily from reducing the number of Americans who become ill because of pollution.

The cost of the programs responsible for these improvements is a relatively small portion of the federal budget, and thus a very small percentage of the average American family’s tax expenditures. Yet, the benefits derived from these programs are extraordinary: clean air for our children to breathe, clean water for our families to drink, healthy public lands for people to recreate on, and clean oceans to support healthy fisheries and the livelihoods tied to this precious resource.

I highly recommend this article, which discusses the benefits of EPA regulation for workers:

A study just released by Ceres and the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts examines the jobs effects of some of the new regulations, specifically ones that have been harshly attacked by EPA critics. This well-documented study finds that far from being “job killers,” the new regulations will create nearly 300,000 new jobs, especially skilled, high-pay jobs for engineers, project managers, electricians, boilermakers, pipe-fitters, millwrights, and iron workers.

The new study joins a large number of previous studies showing that EPA regulation, in addition to protecting the environment and the public’s health, also serves as a job-growing economic stimulus and development program for the American economy. These studies directly contradict the endlessly repeated mantra that environmental regulations are “job killers.”

The cost of compliance with EPA regulation is generally less than two percent of total business costs. The idea that companies will shut down or go abroad to avoid such costs is ludicrous. However, companies often try to blame shutdowns and runaways on environmental compliance costs as a way to displace responsibility from other causes, such as new technologies, increased productivity, fluctuating energy prices — and their own corporate strategic decisions.

It will be an interesting next couple of weeks on the Hill.  Fortunately, the House Resolution with its partisan cuts is dead on arrival in the Senate.  The current Continuing Resolution (CR) runs out on March 4th, and as Congress is off this week, that leaves just a few working days to pass something before then to avoid a government shutdown.  As it stands now, it looks like Democrats in the Senate want to pass a “clean CR” which would keep spending levels the same for another month, and allow proper time for debate and compromise with Republicans.  The GOP, on the other hand, seems only willing to accept a temporary extension if it includes some level of cuts.  Something’s got to give.  One thing’s for certain, however.  While Americans generally favor spending cuts to reduce the deficit, when it comes to specific programs, we’re actually closeted big government spenders.  In a recent Pew Survey, while fewer Americans want spending to grow in specific areas, most cuts to programs are unpopular.  Double-digit percentages of the public actually favor increased spending levels over cuts in education, veterans’ benefits, health care, medicare, combating crime, energy, scientific research, and yes, environmental protection.  In another recent survey, most Americans oppose restrictions on the EPA.

While Republicans think they have a mandate to slash the peas and carrots of our budget, perhaps they should think again and recognize that while Americans generally support spending cuts, there’s little support for ultra-partisan political posturing.  Maybe it’s about time to take a hard look at reducing that huge, gooey heap of macaroni and cheese.

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Posted in Environment, Federal Deficit, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

It’s Time for Wacky Super Bowl XLV Propositions!

Posted by demkid on February 5, 2011

The 45th edition of the NFL’s championship game is tomorrow (what percentage of the American public knows what XLV means?), and the Green Bay Packers are about a field goal favorite over the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Of course, the Super Bowl is the most-bet-on sporting event in the United States, and most people will probably be making straightforward bets on the winner, spread, total points scored, etc.  However, every year, sportsbooks and gambling companies provide a wide variety of wagering opportunities that go far beyond what would be offered in any other football game.  These propositions (or props for short) range from the basic (what side will the coin land on?) to the completely outrageous (what will Fergie first be wearing for the halftime show?)  There are also cross-sport bets, where the final result can remain unknown for months (will Green Bay win the Super Bowl AND the Milwaukee Brewers win on Opening Day?)  If odds can be created for an event that relates to tomorrow’s game in any way, it’s likely there’s an opportunity out there to put money on that event’s outcome.  Here are some of the prop bets currently available for wagering on Bodog, an online gambling company.  I also thought it would be fun to take a stab at the result, even though I’m not going to Vegas or sending my money to an offshore entity.

Coin Toss/Team to Win Coin Toss: Despite the simplicity of this bet, it’s actually one of the more interesting ones, given recent Super Bowl history.  The NFC team has won 13 straight coin tosses, and the odds of that happening are apparently 1 in 16,384.  However, in the 44 previous games, heads leads tails only barely, 23-21.  Can the NFC streak stay alive?  The Steelers are the visitors this time, so it’s up to them to call the toss accurately and break the streak.  I like streaks, so I’ll say that the Packers win and the coin will land on tailsHere’s more on the coin toss from last year’s Super Bowl.

Length of Christina Aguilera’s National Anthem and “Brave”: The National Anthem length is a standard Super Bowl prop, and this time the over/under is 1 minute, 54 seconds.  New this year (I believe) is how long Christina will hold the last word, and the over/under is 6 seconds.  Jimmy Kimmel was talking about this the other night, and said he did research into her other performances and was taking the “under.”  I feel that Christina will be caught up with the magnitude of the event and will drag out both the song itself and the last word.  Over on both counts.

Fergie’s Attire When She First Appears On Stage: This one cracks me up.  The options are skirt/dress, pants, shorts, and thong/g-string/bikini bottom.  Just the fact that g-string is included is hilarious.  I don’t see any wardrobe malfunction-type incidents happening anytime soon.  The thong bet pays +1000 (meaning you win $1000 on a $100 bet), and the skirt/dress option is the easy choice at +110.  I’ll take pants on this one.

Number of Times FOX Mentions “Brett Favre” During the Game: These types of “mention” bets usually surprise me because they’re lower than expected.  The over/under on this one is 2.5, which seems really low.  I have to believe the announcers will utter Brett Favre’s name at least 3 times during the game.  I’m going with the over, even though it only pays -200 (you’d have to wager $200 to get $100).

Gatorade Color Dumped on Winning Head Coach: This one’s always fun.  The options from most to least likely are yellow, orange, clear/water, red, lime green, and blue.  Of course, if there’s no Gatorade bath, there’s no action on the bet.  This shows how much of a sports junkie I am, but it’s really difficult for me to imagine anything other than yellow or orange Gatorade being used.  I’ll go with orange, which pays out at 7/4.

Who Will MVP Thank First: This one is interesting, as you have to take into account who you think the MVP might be.  Since I think the Packers will win, the likeliest candidate is quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  The options are coach, family, God, teammates, or no one.  God is the betting favorite.  “It’s tough to make God the underdog on any wager, in my opinion, but the odds are also supported by research that shows He often gets the first ‘thanks’ from athletes,” said Bodog sportsbook manager Richard Gardner.  Not to say that Aaron won’t thank God at some point, but I’m going with the second choice, his teammates, which pays at +175.

Super Bowl TV Rating: I really don’t know anything about the Nielsen Rating system, but the over/under is 46.5.  The odds say it’s slightly more likely that it’ll be under this mark, but I think this could actually be a really popular game, and I’ll take the over.

Steelers Mimic of Aaron Rodgers’ Championship Belt Celebration During Game: In case you aren’t aware of Aaron’s trademark celebration, you can see a clip here.  I think it’s pretty awesome.  Some players on opposing teams have imitated this celebration on occasion (for instance, when Rodgers is sacked), which leads to this prop bet.  I don’t think there will be much reason for anyone on the Steelers to be doing this tomorrow, which is why I’m taking the big no on this one.  This concludes my proposition analysis and leads me to my actual pick for the game:

Packers 31, Steelers 20

Update: Well, I didn’t do horribly with my prop picks, going 5-4-1.  My big wins were for Gatorade color and coin toss winner.  Even though the coin was heads again, the NFC’s incredible win-streak extends to 14, as the Steelers picked incorrectly.  The odds of that are now 1 in 32,768, if I’m any good at math.  While Christina Aguilera clearly went over 6 seconds on “brave”, there’s actually some controversy over the total length of the song itself.  If she hadn’t flubbed the lyrics, the total length would have clearly been over 1:54.  However, the actual length was really close to that mark, with one sportsbook saying she went under, and another saying she was over.  I tried timing it a couple times myself, and got 1:53.7, and 1:54.1.  Seems like the fair thing would be to call it a push (it all rounds to 1:54 anyway) and give everyone their money back.  Finally, in perhaps the most interesting prop bet result, the Fox announcers went through the entire game without one mention of Brett Favre.  Good for them.  More on that, here.  Oh, and I almost forgot my final score pick!  I’m fairly impressed with myself.

Posted in Americana, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »