DeMint Don’t Change a Thing

Ezra KleinIncreasingly, I have very fond thoughts about Ezra Klein. But he is still capable of driving me crazy! Today, he did so with, Jim DeMint and the Death of Think Tanks.

His basic argument is that Jim DeMint going to head the Heritage Foundation is indicative of some kind of trend. Specifically, it means that Washington think tanks are getting more politicized. That conclusion I accept, but the argument? No way. To suggest that the Heritage Foundation is something other than a political organization is madness.

Consider the Cato Institute. It has a hell of a lot better a claim to being a real think tank than Heritage. And yet, a few years back I heard an interview with whomever was the head of Cato. In it, he said that if some bit of their research indicated that a libertarian approach to government was bad, they would bury it. I still remember it because at that time I still thought that libertarians might be wrong but at least they were honest.

The Heritage Foundation was formed as a political organization by Joseph Coors. It is no think tank as we normally think of one. And reading Klein’s column, you can see that he agrees with this interpretation. But he still tries to make an argument that is as thin as can be. And he also practices a bit of false equivalence. He writes, “The politicization of Washington’s think tanks long predates DeMint.” But then the only non-conservative think tank he mentions is the Brookings Institution. He can’t think they are politicized. So what it seems he means is, “The politicization of Washington’s conservative think tanks long predates DeMint.” He just isn’t willing to come right out and say it.

No Rights at Work in Michigan

The 'S' WordI’m thinking of starting a weekly rundown of the best writing I find online, because a lot of it doesn’t get mentioned here because I have nothing to add. That is very much true of John Nichols at The Nation who manages to write brilliantly on the local and national level. This evening, he wrote an article that gave me a little bit of hope about Michigan, GOP, Koch Brothers Sneak Attack Guts Labor Rights in Michigan.

As you have likely heard, the Michigan senate managed to ram through a right-to-work bill and it is certain to be passed by the house and signed by Governor Rick Snyder. Unfortunately—and I think this is a big part of its power—most people are confused about what right-to-work means. It certainly sounds like a good thing; who could be against more rights?! But as with similarly Orwellian phraseology like the Clear Skies Act, it is bad. Nichols suggests the term “no-rights-at-work.”

Right-to-work laws limit rights. They stop companies from having contracts that dictate that all workers must be unionized. In effect, they deprive unions of most of their power. What’s more, since all the workers must be paid equitably, the union ends up negotiating and fighting for the rights of non-union workers who do not pay them dues. It is a way to destroy the last vestiges of unionization.

So what made me hopeful? First, there is the possibility of a court challenge. But it is hardly a sure thing. The main thing is that if the Democrats can get back control of the state’s government—and this is likely given all that the Republicans are doing to increase the ranks of the poor—this can all be changed. Eventually. Nichols ends by quoting UAW president Bob King, “This is a short-term victory for… the radical right wing. In the long-term there will be a victory for working families in Michigan.” I hope so.

Afterword

It bothers me a bit that Bob King refers to the “radical right wing.” It reminds me that many unions supported Ronald Reagan, who probably did more to destroy unions than any other single man in this country. And many police and firefighter unions still support Republicans. I understand that the Democratic Party has been a mixed bag. But that’s just it: they’ve been a mixed bag. There is nothing mixed about the bag of bullshit the Republicans have long offered to organized labor.

Don’t Click Here

Click HereRecently, I found myself at Michael Moore’s website. I posted a comment that included a link. The link was stripped out. I’m used to that. It kind of explained why there were no comments.

Today, I was over at Corey Robin’s site. It has never had a problem with my adding a link to a comment. But today: the link was stripped out.

This got me to thinking. It is clear that I am using comments to market my site. In fact, Robin’s site has been very good. I got a lot of click throughs there. But it isn’t as though I am not adding to the discussion. Normally, I comment on the article and refer to something I’ve written in more depth on my site. As a reader, I like this for a couple of reasons. First, it introduces me to new websites. Second, I don’t like long comments; they disturb the browsing experience; if someone has something I want to know more about, I click through.

Let’s get one thing straight: this is not a spam fighting mechanism. The website still lists the commenter’s website (if he provides one). So why am I not happy with that? Providing user website links produces almost no click throughs. There is a simple reason for this: there is no reason to believe that the commenter has any more to say. In fact, many people just put up email addresses so the reader has to check to see if there is even a website link.

Can it be that website owners are annoyed by this behavior? I don’t see why. Or perhaps more accurately, I don’t see any compelling reason why. I think it must be a control issue. But if you really want control, why add comments at all? Doing so basically means you want people to provide you with free content and in return, you will offer them this: nothing.

The problem is that there are too many people who are more than willing to accept nothing. I’m amazed at people on Amazon who write book reviews that are every bit as good as those in the New York Times. What a great deal that is for Amazon! I’m not surprised that people do this stuff for free; I like that about humans. What I don’t like is other people getting a direct non-reader benefit from it. Strange times we live in. It is the internet equivalent to buying a Coors shirt and being a walking billboard.

Three Outlaw Samurai

Three Outlaw SamuraiI picked up a copy of Hideo Gosha’s Three Outlaw Samurai the other day. I didn’t know anything about the film, but hey: samurai. It tells the story of three ronin who work together to protect a group of peasants. If this sounds familiar, it is basically the same plot as Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. But otherwise, the films have little in common. In Kurosawa’s film, the samurai are honorable men; In Gosha’s, not so much.

The film starts with a sequence that is very much like another Kurosawa film: Yojimbo. Sakon Shiba comes upon three peasants who are holding the magistrate’s daughter hostage. At first, it looks like he is going to free the girl, but then he changes him mind when he finds out the peasants haven’t raped the girl and are only holding her to get the magistrate to listen to their complaints about staving to death. But this doesn’t cause him to help them—at least at first; he just hangs out to see the fireworks.

The second samurai, Kyojuro Sakura is first fighting for the magistrate, but switches sides in the middle of a battle. And the third samurai, Einosuke Kikyo, is the most cynical of all, working for the magistrate without really doing anything. He only switches sides when the magistrate tries to have him killed.

The characters are not nearly as complex as we get from Kurosawa. But they have enough quirks to still be fun to watch. Sakura, for instance, kills Oine’s husband on the way to the battle before he has switched sides. When he finds out, he feels terrible about it and tries to make amends. As a result, a romance starts between the two. It gets complicated from there.

The main thing about the film is that it is visually stunning, but not in a classical way. It shows all the signs of being shot quickly, but by a brilliant group. This isn’t too surprising, though: this was Gosha’s first feature film after being well established as a TV director.

Unfortunately, the DVD comes with no extras, commentary, whatever. You can read more about it at the Criterion Collection website, Three Outlaw Samurai: The Disloyal Bunch. But mostly, I recommend just watching the film. It is a lot of fun.

Here is the idiosyncratic trailer for the film that combines the story and the telling of the story:

Help Bobby Jindal!

Bobby JindalBobby Jindal has published an OpEd in Politico today, Cliff Diving. In it, he says, “Today it’s the fiscal cliff, but that surely will not be the end of it; next year it will be the fiscal mountain, after that the fiscal black hole, and after that fiscal Armageddon.” The politics don’t really matter; Jindal is an evil little man—you know, a shining light of the Republican Party! But I don’t know what to make of that jumble of metaphors; it goes way beyond a simple mixed metaphor.

Let’s see now. You fall off a cliff. You climb a mountain. You are pulled into a black hole. And lots of stuff happens to you during Armageddon, but none of them have to do with falling off anything. I admit, the cliff and the black hole are technically the same from a physics standpoint: gravity. But given that Jindal seems to get his science from the Bible I won’t cut him any slack. What’s more, when used as metaphor, they are not the same.

Perhaps we can help out Mr. Jindal. Here are a few alternatives:

  • Today it’s the fiscal Cliff; next year it will be the fiscal Diane, after that the fiscal Sam, and after that fiscal Norm.
  • Today it’s the fiscal cliff; next year it will be the fiscal barranca, after that the fiscal precipice, and after that fiscal scarp.
  • Today it’s the fiscal cliff; next year it will be the fiscal cliff only higher, after that the fiscal cliff even higher than that last one that was higher than the first, and after that fiscal highest cliff—the one that is even higher than the first three hence it being called “highest.”
  • Today it’s the fiscal Cliff Watson; next year it will be the fiscal Cliff Burton, after that the fiscal Cliff Richard, and after that fiscal Jimmy Cliff, which is particularly bad because there are apparently more than one.

I hope that my readers can come up with more metaphors to help out Bobby Jindal. He really needs the help.

A Tale of Two Votes

wheelchairSteve Kornacki provides us with a tale of two votes, What the Republican Party Has Become. In 1990, the Senate voted to approve the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and yesterday, it voted to approve a nonbinding United Nations treaty to encourage other countries to pass their own version of the ADA. Oh what a difference decade or two makes!

The ADA was a big deal back in 1990. It greatly expanded the rights of the disabled and cost the country a lot of money. Yet Republicans were largely for it. When the final vote was case, 37 Republicans voted for it and only 6 voted against it. Jump ahead 22 years and the numbers are basically reversed: 7 voted for it and 38 voted against it. But that’s not the most telling part of the vote.

Six senators who voted for the ADA 22 years ago voted against the UN treaty yesterday: Dan Coats, Thad Cochran, Charles Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, and Richard Shelby. You read that right: the Senate Majority Leader voted against it.

The no votes are due to right wing paranoid about the United Nations coming to take away disabled home schooled children. I am so not kidding. What is worse is how almost no one in the Republican Party elite will stand up to this demagoguing by the likes of Rick Santorum. But maybe I’m asking too much. This is, after all, a party that depends upon people being distracted by mythical threats so it can implement actual harmful policy. Still, at this point, when the majority of the Republicans in the Senate are to the crazy of John “Benghazigate” McCain, you’re left shaking your head.

Afterword

For all the “both sides do it” people out there: no! All Senate Democrats voted for both of these bills.

Mr. Burns Deals with Election Results

I don’t know how old this is, but I just saw it for the first time. So watch it. It’s very funny.

Notice that there are three binders on the floor labeled “women.” There is a book titled, “Nate Silver Can’t Add.” Also, “Think of the economy as a cliff and the rich man is the driver. If you don’t give the driver all the money, he’ll drive you over a cliff. It’s just common sense.” And, of course, they never pass up a chance to insult New Jersey, “Immigrants welcome: please use New Jersey.” Finally, the savior of the Republican Party: Marco Rubio. (He’s a Latino!)

H/T karoli at Crooks & Liars

Republicans Still Aren’t Changing

E. J. DionneYesterday afternoon, E. J. Dionne wrote, The Conservative Learning Curve. He claims that all the talk about the middle class from the likes of Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan is an indication that the Republicans are taking their first baby steps toward changing their party. This is the kind of wishful thinking that has made liberalism a naughty word.

As I wrote yesterday in Same Ol’ Rubio Plus “Middle Class,” there is nothing to this new talk but Republicans adding “middle class” to all their standard talking points. Instead of saying we should end the capital gains tax because it will help job creators, it is now that we should end the capital gains tax because it will help the middle class. There is no rethinking going on here; it is all rebranding.

Last night on The Last Word, E. J. Dionne appeared to put forth this theory. And in his defense, you can tell that even he doesn’t buy it. He is just trying to think the best of Republicans, because they have seemed a bit pathetic recently. Even still, I found it hard to listen to, especially with Lawrence O’Donnell agreeing with him. Thankfully, Richard Wolffe was there to set them straight:

I’m sorry to put a damper on this, but I’m not as optimistic as you guys are about this change in rhetoric. If you looked at any number of focus groups and polls throughout the campaign—if you took the majority of Mitt Romney’s language, he always talked about the middle class. They were all looking at the same data.

Yeah, you want everyone to believe in the American Dream and everyone is going to get on and, “Oh the Democrats just want everyone to get a handout.” That’s obviously a caricature, but if you look at what the policies actually are, when you look at how you create opportunity, in the Republican, conservative mind—that actually is espoused by Rubio, by Paul Ryan—what you’re actually looking at is a reduction in government investment—a reduction of education funding.

And what they mean by more opportunity is more tax cuts for everyone. “Don’t slice off the top 2%: everyone deserves a tax cut!” So I’m a little less optimistic that the rhetorical changes are anything more than saying, “Hey, we heard those focus groups; maybe we just didn’t stick to the language of the focus groups all the time. Maybe it was just 47% of the time.

To this, Dionne responds, “I agree that they have yet to adjust their policies to this new rhetoric.” In other words, he’s hoping. And here’s to hoping! E. J. Dionne is clearly a nicer and more optimistic person than I am. But I haven’t seen anything to indicate that the Republicans are changing in any way. And neither has Richard Wolffe. And frankly, neither has E. J. Dionne.