Shortest 2012 Year in Review

John Fugelsang and Frank Conniff present, Shortest 2012 Year in Review Show. It is very funny. My favorite line was from Conniff, “I spent all this past week buying and hoarding every Twinkie I could find, and it was weird: I just found out the company went out of business.”

I am struck by how similar John Fugelsang’s wit is to that of Frankly Curious favorite Julianna Forlano of Absurdity Today.

Samurai Rebellion

Samurai RebellionI can’t watch a western without thinking, “They didn’t have duels like that!” And this tends to ruin these movies. Does anyone think that when a life is on the line that a man will stand on ceremony and wait for his opponent to draw first? Or that, on seeing his opponent draw, he would be able to react fast enough and draw even faster? There is a word for this kind of thing: silly.

But I like the idea of the western. I like the moral clarity or, in the more interesting cases, the clear moral ambiguity. But I don’t like the duels. So if I’m to not be limited to The Ox-Bow Incident (great as it is), I have to look elsewhere. And there is nowhere else that is better than Japanese samurai movies. There are lots of duels in them, but they mostly don’t defy belief.

I think there is more than just that, though. There is much to like in Japanese cinema. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve over-sampled from the Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune wells. But I rather like Japanese film, in general. I even like the Gamera films, which featured a “terrifying” giant turtle—sort of the low-budget answer to Godzilla. However, what I really like are the more highbrow films. They deal with subjects that speak to me.

One such film is Samurai Rebellion, which I have had sitting around for a few months without watching it. In the last week, I’ve watched it twice. Frankly, I picking it up for two reasons: it stars Toshiro Mifune and it has “Samurai” in the title. On this second account, the film is kind of disappointing: it doesn’t have that much sword fighting action. It has some, of course; and it is rather well done; but Yojimbo it ain’t. In particular, it has a wonderful fight between Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai: the two who had that great fight at the end of Sanjuro.

Samurai Rebellion is a film about honor. And despite what many of my readers may think, honor is a big issue for me. In fact, it is one of my great disappointments with politics: politicians are too dedicated to their ideologies and moneyed interests to do what is best for their constituencies. And we will see when the debt ceiling comes up: will conservatives really be willing to damage the world economy in the name of fanciful economic policies? In Tokugawa period Japan, the Samurai Class would never have allowed such a thing.

The film tells the story of Isaburo Sasahara, the best swordsman in the land. The local ruler forces Isaburo’s son to marry one of the ruler’s ex-concubines, because she has become troublesome, even though she is the mother of the ruler’s heir. Isaburo’s son marries her and the two fall in love. But then the ruler dies and the ruling elite want the woman to come back and live at the castle, because she is the mother of the new (child) ruler. The couple refuse to do this, pushed on by Isaburo himself, who is in a loveless marriage and is inspired by their love. So they rebel. It does not go well.

As usual for Japanese films of this time (1967), it is beautifully shot. It also has the traditional settings that seem as though they were made to be filmed. There are also strong performances all around. I’ve really come to appreciate the more intense acting in the Japanese cinema of that time. Since then, as with films like Vengeance Is Mine, the acting has become more naturalistic. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Regardless, the film works primarily because it tells a very engaging story. After months of discussion of fiscal cliffs and gun regulation that will never get enacted, it is nice to watch people who stand for something other than wealth and power. Check out Samurai Rebellion; I think you will enjoy it.

Afterword

I just checked and the film has a 100% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Quick Outrage

Fiscal CliffI keep hearing and reading that a deal may be in the works that will avoid the Fiscal Cliff. No!

Let me say that again: no!

No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! Nooooooooo!

There is a deal that the Senate may pass tonight. There is a deal that the House might take up tomorrow. (But I seriously doubt it!) And by “tomorrow” I mean, you know: the day after we’ve gone off the Fiscal Cliff!

Note: going off the Fiscal Cliff is no big deal. I’ve been long saying that we will. But there is no deal that will stop this from happening. We are going over the Fiscal Cliff in two and a half hours!

And for the record, I don’t think the House will vote on this tomorrow. I still think Boehner will wait until after he has been re-elected Speaker of the House.

Now let’s all jump off the Fiscal Cliff: three, two, one…

Happy New Year (and Grammar)

Happy New YearAs anyone with the smallest amount of knowledge of me knows: I do not like holidays. What’s more: I take pleasure in dumping all over holidays whenever I get the chance. I’m not particularly against New Years, although I don’t celebrate it. At least, not any more than I do every day: getting shit-faced.

That last sentence was interesting, wasn’t it? I used “any more” rather than “anymore.” This is correct. In fact, I don’t much like the word “anymore,” which is kind of new anyway. I also used “every day” instead of “everyday.” This distinction is actually important. “Everyday” is an adjective meaning “ordinary.” On the other hand, “Every day” is a modified noun. Use this sentence to remember the difference: “I wear my everyday clothes every day.”

You see how I celebrate New Years? Grammar lessons. Just be thankful I didn’t provide a proof that two odd numbers multiplied always equal an odd number. (I’m saving that for Valentine’s Day!) But just to show I’m not too bad a guy, here is “Happy New Year” said in upwards of 40 languages:

It isn’t every day you see everyday Babbel employees saying “Happy New Year”!

Will the Senate Be Stupid Tonight?

FilibusterWhat a day! It is an amazing combination of actual news happening and almost no coverage of that news. CBS News has reported, No “Fiscal Cliff” Vote in House Monday. But the story indicates that they don’t really believe the House Republicans. They imply that backroom dealing could still pull this out. Except for this line, “House Republicans told their ranks that there will be no votes on any ‘cliff’-related legislation today.” I understand that one might plan to hold a vote and then decide not to—think “Plan B.” But the other way around?

I think what we are seeing is what I wrote about earlier today: Bohner does not want a vote until after he is re-elected Speaker of the House. I fully expect for him to talk very tough—very idiot Tea Party—until after the vote. And then, gradually, but quickly, he will come around and decide that there will be a vote.

Unless the Republican leadership confirms that they will hold a vote today, the Senate Democrats would be crazy to hold a vote. By accepting the $450,000 cutoff for the tax increases, the Democrats would be setting a new baseline for the negotiations after we go off the Cliff. But I fear that Democrats are prepared to do just that. As always, they are so eager to be seen as the “adults in the room” that they are blind to the tactical issues.

Even now (it is 7:00 pm, Eastern time), CNN reports, The Fiscal Cliff Is Nigh; Senate Still Talking, House Won’t Vote. Why is the Senate still talking? And now I just saw on MSNBC (live, so no link) that the House has adjourned but that the Senate is still planning a vote tonight.

It would be a lot of fun to be part of the Evil Party. Unfortunately, because of my beliefs, I’m stuck with the “Adult” Party. And too often that means the Stupid Party. Will it be stupid tonight?

The Fiscal Cliff Deal That Can’t

Fiscal CliffReuters is reporting, Tentative “Fiscal Cliff” Deal Emerges in Senate. The devil is in the details, but it is at least not as bad as I had thought. In fact, dare I say it: it looks pretty good. If the Republicans were willing to take this all the time, what was the problem? The problem, I fear, is that the Republicans are not willing to take this deal.

Here are the main items:

  • It makes permanent the tax cuts on incomes below $450,000. (Meh.)
  • The estate tax will be increased. (Good, but by how much?)
  • Corporate tax incentives are extended. (Fine.)
  • The AMT will be permanently fixed. (About time!)
  • The sequester will be delayed for an undetermined amount of time. (Those Republicans really hate deficits, don’t they?!)
  • Extended unemployment benefits will be continued for another year. (Very good.)
  • Capital gains taxes will be raised from 15% to 23.8%. (Better than nothing. A lot better!)

So this deal look like it might be pretty damned good. And you know what that means…

The Republicans will kill it.

Afterword

This article may not have a long shelf life, unless I’m right. I’m not sure. Obviously, the deal can pass the Senate. It would be high-larious if McConnell ended up filibustering it! But I think that is asking too much. I suspect the deal can pass the House, because Democrats will vote for it in large numbers. But will Boehner really allow a vote on this? Won’t he risk losing his speakership if he allows that? We’ll know soon enough!

Update (31 December 2012 11:53 am)

Finally, I found the president’s speech that everyone is talking about:

More on Chained-CPI

Josh BarroI’ve been confused about Social Security and how Chained-CPI affects the program in the long term. Starting benefits are calculated by adjusting all of your top 35 years of work into current dollars. For example, the Social Security Administration says that your income in 1951 should be multiplied by 14.89 to get to its current value. This means the CPI over the years doesn’t matter—at least directly. What it does mean is that income inequality is slowly destroying the program, but that’s another (very important) matter.

Chained-CPI is still a really bad idea. I look at it this way: if someone is going to screw me over, the least they can do is admit it. This “technical fix” is just a way to cut benefits in the program without admitting it. And notice, the government has already greatly cut benefits by raising the retirement age up to 67. That too was a way to avoid looking like they were cutting the program. Of course, for the guy who dies one day before his 67th birthday, it is a very big cut indeed.

Josh Barro takes on this issue as directly as anyone I have seen. And he defends Social Security to boot:

This is the key point about chained CPI, often glossed over by its advocates. Adopting it is just another way to cut Social Security benefits. So it’s only a good idea if cutting Social Security benefits is a good idea…

I think Social Security is one of the best values among federal programs and that the U.S. faces a retirement-savings crisis that will be exacerbated if we cut old-age benefits. I think we should cut elsewhere.

This is from a conservative—admittedly, a really smart one. But it goes along with what pretty much everyone agrees with: Social Security is a good program that we should protect. The rest is just a matter of good government. If we are going to cut the program, let’s talk about that. Backdoor means of cutting the Social Security is just wrong.

Obama is Hopeless

Obama Question MarkThe Wall Street Journal is reporting that Biden is negotiating with McConnell. First the bad news, and then the worse news. Biden asked for income taxes to rise on incomes over $250,000. McConnell countered: $550,000. Biden shot back: $450,000. Where do you think that ends? A half-million, right?

But that is only the bad news. The worse news is that, as we expect from this administration, the price for caving on the president’s demands is the president is also caving on raising the estate tax!

And the la-hand of the Freeeeee!
And the hoooome, of thhhhhe, braaaave!

At least I don’t feel so alone. Jonathan Chait (yes, the guy I was just complaining about) has written one of his best articles in a long time, Why Is Obama Caving on Taxes? He explains that Obama has run these Fiscal Cliff negotiations in such a way as to destroy his second term. By showing that he has no backbone, he is setting up one or more debt ceiling fights. And as Chait notes, “Indeed, [the Republicans] will probably discover other areas of traditionally routine policy agreement that can be turned into extortion opportunities.”

He provides what I think is an excellent analogy with poker:

The negotiating style Obama has displayed in these instances is what poker players call “tight-weak.” A tight-strong player avoids throwing in his chips, saving them for a big hand, which he plays aggressively in hopes of a huge win. A loose-weak player plays lots of hands, bluffing frequently. Tight-weak is the worst of all worlds—when you have a weak hand, you lose, and when you have a strong hand, you fail to maximize your position.

Similarly, Krugman is unhappy. But he seems unable to believe that Obama can really be this bad:

Is it really possible that Obama still doesn’t understand that every time he does this—especially if it comes just a few days after stern statements about how he won’t give [in]—it just reinforces the Republican belief that he can always be bullied into submission? If he cuts a bad deal on the fiscal cliff today, he more or less guarantees that just a few weeks from now Republicans will go all out on using the debt ceiling to extract more concessions.

As I’ve written about a lot around here, this is the easy fight. This is the slam dunk. If Obama can’t get a good deal with this hand, he’s hopeless.

Obama is hopeless.

Jonathan Chait’s Subtle False Equivalence

Hillary ClintonThere was a lot of talk the last day about whether Fox News is going to admit now that Hillary Clinton really did have a concussion, now that we know she really did. But then Jonathan Chait, always trying to be an iconoclast, tweeted, “If a Republican claimed concussion before testimony over controvery or pseudocontroversy, would liberals believe them? Many wouldn’t.” I have an answer for that.

I would have thought the Republican was lying. Similarly, I thought Clinton was lying. I pretty much always assume that people are lying when it is an excuse for doing something unpleasant. But Chait is not asking the right question.

There are really two issues here. First is the controversy. Do Democrats go around holding trumped-up hearings about anything they can grab on to? The only time I can remember anything I felt the least bit concerned about was the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.[1] But at least there was a real issue there. With the Republicans, especially of late, these hearings seem more like Area 51 conspiracy enthusiast meetings.

The other issue is that while many liberals are cynical just like me, I don’t think this issue would have made it to The Rachel Maddow Show. So Chait is just acting as an apologist for the right wing echo chamber. It is a subtle form of false equivalence.


[1] I want to be clear on this. My primary problem here is that the hearings really should have been about Thomas being totally unqualified for the job rather than his office indiscretions. Although I find his behavior abhorrent (see Blinded By the Right), I don’t think people should be publicly humiliated over changing mores. Of course, in this particular case it was Anita Hill who was publicly humiliated. Thomas got a job he doesn’t deserve. And the Senate embarrassed itself.

Consider Hagel

Chuck HagelThe most surprising criticism that I’ve heard against Chuck Hagel as potential Secretary of Defense is that he is to the left of President Obama on the issues of foreign affairs. I don’t even know that this is true. I suspect it is just that Hagel is to the left of the president in some ways and that is enough to label him a flaming liberal. But here’s my question: isn’t it the president’s decision as to whether Hagel is too far to the left of him? Because that is the issue. The assumption of this line of argument is that the president is the most liberal man that we can stomach. Unless he chooses to work with people who are more conservative than he is, it is unacceptable.

Matthew Duss writes over at Salon (originally, The American Prospect), Why Are Neocons So Down on Chuck Hagel? He says there are two reasons. First, he says that the neocons want to stop all talk of approaching the Israel-Palestine issue anyway but as we always have. That is: unsuccessfully.

More important that this (and the repellent claim that Hagel is antisemitic), the real issue is that neocons don’t like anyone who claims that the United States should be going to war anywhere and everywhere. And nowhere is more important than Iran. Most recently, John Cornyn has claimed that he will block Hagel’s nomination because Hagel said he wouldn’t put “everything” on the table regarding Iran. Now it turns out that Hagel said no such thing. So this is more random smearing in this very troubling campaign against him. But I have to ask: shouldn’t some things be taken off the table? Isn’t it perhaps a bad idea to start a nuclear war in the name of stopping Iran from maybe trying to get nuclear weapons? Wouldn’t doing that just cause a nuclear arms race in that region of the world?

In the end, I’m not sold on Hagel. There are things I like about him and things I don’t like. But I suspect he would be fairly good at the job. The main thing, as Duss points out, is that we ought to be able to consider him. We certainly shouldn’t disqualify him based upon the people who brought us the worst foreign policy decade in my lifetime.

Tea Party Idiot

Amy KremerHowdy folks. I saw something on the TV machine today that was too much. I don’t get to see a lot of Tea Party lunacy, because I avoid regular TV. But there was one of them on Up with Chris Hayes. Her name is Amy Kremer and she is with the Tea Party Express. And I can see why the group puts here out to speak for them. She’s good on camera and well-spoken—a whole lot better spoken than I am. But she is just a talking points machine. She really doesn’t understand what she’s saying.

This was most clear when Steve Kornacki (who was hosting the show for Chris Hayes, and who most clearly is not a morning person) countered her on her complaints about the Fiscal Cliff. She covers reasonably well, but it is clear that she thought the Fiscal Cliff was something that was going to make the budget deficit worse. You have to ask: how is the Tea Party holding the Republicans accountable, when their leaders fundamentally misunderstand the issue.

I don’t claim that the following video is good. But it gets to heart of my reaction to this ignorant woman’s bombastic proclamations.

For more about how conservatives don’t know how the government is too big, just that it is, see, John Boehner’s Position on the Gaming License.

BTW: We’re Good They’re Bad

Marco RubioSeveral people sent me to the most informative tweet I have ever seen. Marco Rubio explains the Republican Party in two short sentences: Republicans don’t want to cut Social Security. And by the way, the Democrats do.

There is something to be said for this. It’s true: the Republicans aren’t for cutting Social Security. Or saving Social Security. Or leaving it alone. Or, frankly, not leaving it alone. The Republican Party stands for whatever you believe in. And the Democrats are against it.

Really.

BTW Marco Rubio is a dick.

Update (30 December 2012 5:52 pm)

Ezra Klein has a slightly different take on this same tweet:

Today’s Republican Party thinks the key problem America faces is out-of-control entitlement spending. But cutting entitlement spending is unpopular and the GOP’s coalition relies heavily on seniors. And so they don’t want to propose entitlement cuts. If possible, they’d even like to attack President Obama for proposing entitlement cuts. But they also want to see entitlements cut and will refuse to solve the fiscal cliff or raise the debt ceiling unless there are entitlement cuts.

You can see why these negotiations aren’t going well.

I think the problem is a little more fundamental than this. But he is right about the specifics.