John Adams Was Not All Bad

John AdamsOn this day in 1735, John Adams was born. When I was a kid, I thought quite highly of him. He had a nice wife and most of the best songs in 1776. It was only later that I learned about the four Alien and Sedition Acts. The republic had only been in existence for a scant decade and already Adams and his allies were trying to destroy it. I’m not saying that they weren’t right to have concerns. Armed rebellion was a very good possibility. But the Naturalization Act and the two Alien acts were just xenophobic power grabs. And the Sedition Act was nothing but an attempt to stop the political competition from talking. The truth is, I don’t see how any of the acts made an armed rebellion less likely. But I suspect the real concern — what conservatives are always worried about — was that democracy would work and the Federalists would be thrown out of power. Indeed, Adams would be the last Federalist president, and the party would be gone completely in Adams’ own life.

What Adams most symbolizes to me is the desire among many people in the early days of the United States to have hereditary rule. It is true that Adams said many things during his life, but it is clear what he thought. He did spend much of the later years of his life disavowing this belief. But that was just because Jefferson and company had beat up on him so much. When Adams had political power, he really did have classist beliefs. And I understand that. It is hard not to look out on the world and escape the conclusion that if only everyone listened to my wise self, all would be grand. But good sense always gets in my way. Adams had no such blocking mechanism.

(My ultimate dream is that I could be a kind of Kermit the Frog. I would be the calm in the middle of the storm of creative insanity. I could add that little bit of structure that they all need for greatness. Sadly, in humans — as opposed to the superior puppets — the creative insane tend to break off into their own creative twisters. Alas, my dream is destined to die with me.)

On the other hand, there is the Boston Massacre. Not only did it show some fortitude to take the case, it showed a good deal of open-mindedness. And in the case, he said something that conservatives of my age have lost sight of:

It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished.

But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, “whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,” and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.

So I don’t think Adams was all bad. He wasn’t a slave owner! And he lost the 1800 election to Jefferson because of the South’s inflated population size because of the slave population, which were only citizens for the purpose of giving slave owners more political power. Ultimately, John Adams is no worse than Edmund Burke. And it is clear that neither man would be welcome in the modern conservative movement. And that’s shocking.

Happy birthday John Adams!

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Madeleine Peyroux’s Careless Love

Madeleine PeyrouxI’m out of town today, so I didn’t have time for the usual five posts yesterday or really even today So let’s just end the evening with a little Madeleine Peyroux. There isn’t a lot to say about her except that I love her stuff. When I first heard one of her songs, I thought it was a Billie Holiday song I hadn’t heard. She does sound like Holiday a lot of the time.

More recently, she seems to have tried to get a little away from that. But on her second album, Careless Love, she still sounded a lot like Holiday. This is the title track, “Careless Love”:

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The Medicaid Expansion is Just Good Economics

Michael HiltzikMichael Hiltzik reads the Kaiser Family Foundation reports so we don’t have to, A New Sign That Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Will Cost States Money. And as the title indicates this one is a doozy. But it ain’t surprising. It turns out that those states who have not accepted the Medicaid expansion are seeing their total state expenditures go up much faster next year than this year. But in states that did expand Medicaid, the rate of increase will go down.

Let me unpack this. Medicaid exists in every state in the union. Just under normal circumstances, there are more people born and so total enrollment expands. What’s more, medical inflation is still higher than overall inflation. (Obamacare is helping to slow that.) So these two factors cause state Medicaid costs to increase each year. But there is also an increase in the number of eligible people who are participating in the program. This has caused the overall increase of state spending from year to year to go down from 6.6% in 2014 to 4.4% in 2015. So the state expenditures in the states that expanded Medicaid are still growing, but the rate is decreasing.

In the states that did not expand Medicaid, the situation is much worse. The state spending from year to year has gone up from 6.1% in 2014 to 6.8% in 2015. And this is despite the fact that these states are not, you know, expanding Medicaid to the working poor. They are putting increasing pressure on their state budgets and all they get for it is that warm feeling that that they are sticking it to Obama.

Here are Figures 2 and 3 from the report combined by me to make for clearer viewing:

Medicaid Expansion Comparison

In addition to this, states will be saving money on things like providing care in prisons and in programs to reimburse hospitals for unpaid care. Hiltzik lays it out:

These findings mock the claims of expansion obstructionists — all Republicans — that they’re being fiscally responsible by opting out of the Medicaid expansion. Since the federal government is picking up the tab, taxpayers in those states aren’t evading the costs — they’re just paying via their federal taxes for Medicaid in states other than their own.

One thing Hiltzik doesn’t go into is the pure economics of this (although he has in the past). This is just a question of the federal government giving the states free money. To a first approximation, the states are just getting back money that their people have already paid in taxes. So this whole Republican hissy fit makes no sense. In addition to reducing the costs of the government, it is also a stimulus program for the state economy. The extra money going into the state will create jobs.

The truth is, what the Republicans are doing is totally bizarre. It is something that goes against any idea of rational actors. These Republican state legislators and governors are directly hurting themselves, the people they represent, and their state. And it is all done for what? To send a message to the federal government? As Hiltzik noted, “The last holdouts look increasingly foolish.” And that’s saying something, given how foolish they already looked.

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We Are Overreacting to Ebola

Sam WangThe amount of Ebola coverage is amazing: 1,869 stories from October 20 to 24 alone. That coverage came on the heels of the death of one patient in Dallas, Texas. The level of coverage is amazing considering the far greater impact of other infectious diseases in the United States: rotavirus, which kills dozens of small children every year; West Nile virus, a similar number of adults; and of course influenza, which kills thousands even in years when there is no epidemic.

Ebola appeals to our fears: the disease is grisly. It is a serious threat with tremendous public health implications — in western Africa. That is the reason for sending relief workers overseas — fighting it there so we don’t have to fight it over here. Unfortunately, popular intuitions about it are often wrong. Many people seem unaware that asymptomatic individuals are not contagious, and the disease is not transmitted by airborne means. It is unfortunate that more coverage does not focus on evidence-based information…

—Sam Wang
Overreacting to Ebola?

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Germany Should Exit the Eurozone

Dean BakerDean Baker made a brilliant observation, Germany Leaves the Euro Zone, and the Problem Is? This goes along with my general theory that there really is something wrong with the German people. And I say this having once had a wonderful time in Germany. Hell of a place and hell of a people. But that’s if you are drinking with them. If you are on the outside, well, let’s just say that they are not the most empathic of people.

Throughout the crisis in the European Union over the past six years, Germany has behaved atrociously. The whole time, they have told themselves a narrative that is both self-congratulatory about their own success and dismissive of the pain of others. In this narrative, Germany is doing well because of their strong work ethic and fiscal rectitude. The countries of southern Europe are suffering because they are lazy and were fiscally profligate before. That’s just not true in either case. In fact, people in southern Europe generally work more than Germans. And other than Greece (Really: how long are conservatives going to continue to reduce everything to Greece?!) the other European governments did not misbehave.

Because Germany is the largest economy involved with the Euro, the strength of the Euro is pretty much dictated by Germany. In order for the other countries to recover from the current economic stagnation, Germany needs to allow itself a little inflation: let wages go up! But instead, Germany has kept wages artificially low both before the crisis and since. What this means is that German exports continue to be overly competitive compared to exports from, say, Spain. I could accept that better if Germany didn’t pretend that this situation was great and if everyone just acted more German everything would be fine.

Really, I don’t want to overstate this. But it seems to me that Germany is bullying Europe very much as they have in the past. It is just that now they are doing it economically instead of with tanks. There is even the same kind of ideology present: Deutschland über alles! That’s not in the sense of Germany destroying all others. But it is in the sense of Germany thinking it is better than everyone else. I’ve seen this same kind of repugnant attitude in myself, “Why isn’t everyone as smart as I am? Why isn’t everyone as thin as I am? Why isn’t everyone as whatever as I am?!” Generally, if it is even true (and it isn’t for Germany or me), it is due to things we have no control over and shouldn’t be something that we take pride in.

Right now, Germany takes pride in its fiscal rectitude, but its effect is to harm the rest of the Eurozone. Matt O’Brien was discussing how maybe the European Central Bank (ECB) could do some quantitative easing, even though it is outside its charter. He noted that this might cause Germany to leave the Euro. And Baker’s response was, “So what?” As it is, Germany gets a great advantage pegging the Deutsche Mark to the Euro. And the rest of the countries would be better off without that.

It’s really very simple. If Germany left the Eurozone, the Deutsche Mark would go up in value relative to the Euro. This would immediately cause all the other countries in Europe to be more competitive in exports. It would create jobs. It would be great. The down side is that people who had a bunch of money stored in the Euro would see it go down in value one time. But even this would be reversed to some extent by the rebounding economy.

I think this is a great idea. A bunch of little countries leaving the Euro could be disruptive. But a single, orderly exit of Germany? It sounds like a great, pragmatic solution to the problem in Europe. Of course, Germany won’t do it. It is getting too much benefit from staying in the Eurozone and pretending like it is doing everyone else a favor.

Afterword

Let’s be clear about a few terms here. First, the European Union is the group of states that are linked politically and economically to a degree. The Eurozone is the group of European Union nations whose national currency is the euro. So, for example, the United Kingdom is in the European Union, but not in the Eurozone.

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Akim Tamiroff

Akim TamiroffThe internet started on this day 45 years ago. Well, sort of. That was the day that the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) established its first network link. Circuit switching is dead; long live packet switching! Exciting stuff. I’m sure the people working on the project were very pleased. I know what it is like to get technology like that working. It doesn’t matter that you know it is theoretically possible. When everything works it is an amazing feeling. Sadly, it is not a feeling that comes along very often.

On this day in 1899, the great character actor Akim Tamiroff was born. One of the great things about being a character actor is that you get to work a lot. Tamiroff was in more than 150 movies if we are to believe IMDb. And the variety of the films is remarkable. For example, he was in Preston Sturges’s silly The Great McGinty and Jean-Luc Godard’s genre defying Alphaville. I can’t find a clip from the latter film, but her he is in a very funny scene from the former:

Mostly, I know Tamiroff from his work with Orson Welles. He was in Touch of Evil, The Trial, and even the unfinished Don Quixote as Sancho. But I remember him as the old dope pusher Jakob Zouk in Mr Arkadin — the first character to be introduced and the last to be murdered by Gregory Arkadin. Unfortunately, I can’t find a clip of that either. (Well, one dubbed in Spanish.) So here he is in Topkapi. “Are you here officially?”!

I just learned that Boris Badenov on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was inspired by Tamiroff. I can think of no greater honor. But it makes me wonder about the awful feature film, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Why did they cast Jason Alexander? Everyone knows the modern Akim Tamiroff is Jon Polito!

Happy birthday Akim Tamiroff!

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A Tale of Two Fast-Food Workers

Statue of LibertyThis morning, Charlie Pierce wrote a interesting article over at his perch at Esquire, American Exceptionalism. It follows up on a great bit of reporting by Liz Alderman, Steven Greenhouse, and Anna-Katarina Gravgaard in The New York Times yesterday, Living Wages, Rarity for US Fast-Food Workers, Served Up in Denmark. It compares two young men who work for Burger King — one in the US and one in Denmark. In Denmark, he makes $20 per hour and in the US he makes $9 per hour. And the guy in America is a shift manager. Moving on up!

The critical element of the story is this line, “Many American economists and business groups say the comparison is deeply flawed because of fundamental differences between Denmark and the United States.” And what are those differences? Basically, they are reasons why the situation is bad here. They aren’t reasons for keeping the current situation. For example, in Denmark, the workers are unionized. Well, yeah. There is also universal healthcare in Denmark. All these things mean is that fast-food workers in Denmark are doing even better than the wage comparison would indicate.

There is a kind of Catch-22 thing here. Because of our huge inequality problem in the United States, we have policies that take from the poor and give to the rich. And because we have these policies, we must have our high levels of inequality and they need to get even higher. That doesn’t indicate that we have to continue on with poverty wages. It just means that when one part of a political economy is screwed up, many other parts are screwed up as well. If we still had strong unions, we would doubtless have universal healthcare and higher wages. That doesn’t mean that because we have low wages we must therefore have no unions. Organizing can work wonders if we do still have a democracy.

What Pierce added to this discussion is that we have such a screwed up system because the business community has gone insane:

The other real, if unspoken difference between Denmark and the United States is that the members of the Danish corporate class are not trained from their adolescence to become public sociopaths. This is not a minor distinction.

Since the 1970s, the business community (and this includes business majors at college) have taken on this Ayn Rand kind of idea that by making as much money as they can they are by definition doing good. We’ve gotten so used to it that it is shocking to hear business owners in Denmark say things like, “We don’t want people living on the streets. If that happens, we consider that we as a society have failed.” But notice: that’s the kind of thing that you could imagine most humans saying. It is an aberration that this kind of talking is anathema to the American business community. I’m not even referring to what actual practices here. In the United States, the capitalist class has gotten to the point where they don’t even give lip service to the good of the society or even the country. Indeed, on that last item, the business position seems to be that if you can bilk some money from the government, it’s just great. Remember when Mitt Romney while running for President of the United States proudly announced that he would be unfit for the job if he had paid any more than the law required? Because, you know, freedom!

As we see, this kind of thinking has infected our entire society. When Mitt Romney made his vile comment, there was no outrage from the mainstream media sources. It was just taken as part of the continuum of acceptable discourse. And this is at the same time that the mainstream media are dismissive of the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour — a rate that would still be below its late 1960s rate if it had been raised at the rate of productivity increases. It’s disgusting and the journalism industry would be ashamed if it hadn’t lost the ability.

This is American Exceptionalism: the vast majority of the people live much worse than their peers in other advanced economies. I’m so proud.

See Also

Property Rights
Be a Patriot, Pay Your Taxes!
Conservatives and the Lucky Duckies

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Congress Won’t Become Productive With a Republican Senate

Kevin McCarthyDanny Vinik wrote a great article over at New Republic, Republicans Have Big Plans for a GOP Senate. Here’s What Will Come of Them: Nothing. It is primarily about House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s claim that if the Republicans take the Senate, then they can show the people that they really can govern. Vinik’s article is one big eye-roll. He wrote, “The 114th Congress will probably look a lot like the 113th.”

According to McCarthy, the Republicans in the House and Senate will get together and grind out deals. But that makes no sense. By and large, the problem with the House Republicans has not been that they don’t agree with the Democratic Senate. The problem is that they don’t get along with themselves. To many, even most, House Republicans, the Senate Republicans are a bunch of sellouts. If the extremists in the party were not willing to compromise on anything when they only controlled one chamber, why would they suddenly be willing to compromise when they have both chambers?

Vinik made the excellent point that having control of both houses of Congress is going to make a Debt Ceiling debacle even more likely. And it sets up a very dangerous battle. They could easily put together a Debt Ceiling bill larded with a wish list of their usual demands so that the president is forced to either accept it or allow the government to default. And don’t kid yourself: there are a whole lot of Republicans in Congress who would love to see that happen. Remember, this is the party that continues to refuse free money to help their working poor and their economies just to “send a message” to the president. They are itching for a clear flight. In fact, they itching for nothing else.

There is still, however, the biggest liberal concern: Obama might start bargaining with the Republican Congress. But this seems unlikely for the same reason that the chambers are unlikely to get along. Any deal with Obama will be by definition selling out. Obama is, after all, the Antichrist. Remember back in 2011 when Boehner made a deal with Obama? By his own calculation, Boehner got 98% of what he wanted. Still, this was seen as heresy. I expect them to hold out for what they see as their ultimate rout in 2016 when they will hold all the levers of power and can get 100% of what they want.

But here is the ultimate state of things:

Republicans have been unable to coalesce around a plan for immigration reform among themselves, much less with the president. If they want to show they can govern, passing an immigration bill — any immigration bill — would be a good place to start. As with other major issues, though, Republicans find it easier to say they can govern than to actually do it.

That gets to a fundamental issue: the Republicans don’t actually have any ideas other than tax cuts and deregulation. They haven’t been able to come up with an immigration reform bill because they don’t want to do anything about immigration reform. They haven’t been able to come up with a replacement for Obamacare because they don’t want to do anything about healthcare. The list goes one. And Kevin McCarthy’s idea that they will show the nation that they can govern is just nonsense. When it comes down to it, everyone knows that the voters are not going to reward them for that even if the Republicans managed to do it. So they will fall back on what they do get support for: making high minded but meaningless political statements about how Obama wants to destroy America.

The only real change we are likely to see with Republican control of both chambers of Congress is that there will be more crises. They may be minor and they may be catastrophic. But they will come. And I’ll make a prediction: they will not be harmed by these crises. The media will portray it as a simple partisan issue. There will be many columns asking, “Why can’t they just get along?!” And if they manage to actually destroy the American economy going into the 2016 presidential election, the people will reward them with the White House. If that happens, we’ll get to see that the Republicans really can govern — like George W Bush.

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2014 Is Shaping Up to Be a Very Close Year

Close Races 2004 - 2014

This remarkable graph comes to us from Sam Wang, In State Races, as Much Suspense as 2006 and 2010 Combined. For all the years before this year, it shows the number of Senate and gubernatorial races that that were won by less than three percentage points. And for this year, it shows the number of races that are this close based upon Wang’s aggregation of polling data. This isn’t a partisan breakdown. There are Democrats and Republicans and Independents on this graph. But the point is that the election is incredibly close by historical standards.

You probably already know that despite people constantly complaining about politicians, incumbents do really well. They tend to get re-elected at a rate just shy of 90%. That isn’t so much the case this time. Of course, as always, this is just about fundamentals. Four years ago, the Republicans had a wave election and a whole bunch of Republicans ended up as governors — including in states that aren’t red. So they are vulnerable. On the other side, six years ago, the Democrats had a wave election and a whole bunch of Democrats ended up as Senators — including in bright red states like Alaska. So they are vulnerable.

But a big part of what is going on is that Democrats are simply doing a lot better than they should be. We will have to see how the vote turns out. It may be that for some reason, all the polls are favoring the Democrats and that the races that look close aren’t. But I tend to think that these are close races. It will take some serious statistical analysis after the election to say whether we are seeing the edge of demographic changes. But I wonder if it isn’t just that the country is exhausted from years of the same old nonsense from the Republicans.

I understand that “the party of ‘No’” is just a Democratic talking point. But how long can a party continue to push the same ideas that don’t work before the voters just give up? We’ve been living in Reagan’s world for more than 30 years now. The only improvement in the lives of the middle class was under Bill “Socialist! He’s a socialist, I tell you!” Clinton. And no one can seriously look at Obama and think that he is the bogeyman. He most clearly isn’t that. He may be detached and too inclined to a world view that is divorced from the day-to-day struggles of regular Americans. I certainly think that. But he isn’t out to harm America. He’s the President of the United States, for Christ’s sake! No reasonable person is going to buy the whole Antichrist Manchurian Candidate ranting that is now well inside the Republican mainstream.

The close elections are a source of comfort for Democrats, because it could turn out that we do a lot better than is expected. But it also means that 2014 could be a rout for the Republicans, and we have to look forward to Obama talking about his “shellacking” — showing that he still doesn’t understand how politics works. But I have seven days to hope that things go reasonably well for the Democrats. (It would also be good for the Republicans too, but that’s long-term.) After that, we will all know — except for Georgia and Louisiana most likely.

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Bride of the Witness of Elsa Lanchester by Death

Elsa LanchesterOn this day in 1902, the great actor Elsa Lanchester was born. She will always be associated with Bride of Frankenstein. She played both Mary Shelley and “the bride.” And she was wonderful. It’s kind of strange. I remember watching that movie on Creature Features with my older brother and sister when I was maybe 9 years old. I was terrified. Yet now it is a film I watch when I want to get cheered up. It’s so sweet — especially when “the monster” takes the hand of “the bride” and pats it gently. Of course, she doesn’t respond well.

Lanchester had a long and distinguished career. She received two Academy Award nominations for Come to the Stable and Witness for the Prosecution. What I’m most taken with is that she exudes fun up on the screen. Her role as the chatty nurse Miss Plimsoll in the second of these could easily have been annoying, but with Lanchester it is just a delight. She and Charles Laughton were married their whole adult lives until he died. They starred in nine films together. Here she is talking with Dick Cavett about Laughton, Isadora Duncan, and how to pronounce her last name:

Some nice person put together four minutes of clips from various movies, with the Bride of Frankenstein music on top of it. I think her personality comes across really well even without dialog:

Let’s just end with one of her very last films, Murder By Death. In it, she plays a Miss Marple parody, Jessica Marbles. At the end of it, Dora Charleston (parody of Nora Charles from The Thin Man) says, “I like her; I really like her.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Happy birthday Elsa Lanchester!

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