Nice Things Like Susan Rice

Susan RiceI don’t care about the politics. I don’t care who “won” in this fight regarding Susan Rice. Her decision to take herself out of contention for Secretary of State is the perfect example of why we can’t have nice things. And this fits very well with my last article about the apocalyptic conservatism of Marc Thiessen. In this case, it is John McCain, of course. Without the maverick miscreant, the others would not have followed and this whole “controversy” would not have received any traction at all.

John McCain is a sad and bitter old man. I’ve written about this a lot.[1] He is the ultimate symbol of how the Republican Party deals with defeat: with vengeance. No keep calm and carry on for them! No. These are the “throw the Monopoly board up in the air rather than admit defeat” kind of people.

Your party reacted badly to the Benghazi attack? Don’t admit to your error and move on! Much better to trump up a controversy and find a relatively powerless innocent who you can beat up on! That feels nice, doesn’t it?

Election didn’t go your delusional way? Don’t reflect on it and reevaluate the way forward! Much better to grab your most notable and embarrassing fiasco and use it to wreck the economy. Remember what we learned in Ben Tre, “We have to destroy the country in order to save it”! That feels real good, now doesn’t it?

I understand disagreement. I have very strongly held political opinions. But I also understand that I’m wrong about things from time to time. I don’t like it when Democrats lose or voluntarily cave on things I feel are important. But I would never harm this country because I didn’t get what I wanted. And I think that is generally true of the Democratic Party. It was also once true of the Republican Party. But no more.

So it is no wonder that the best and brightest that our culture produces—people like Susan Rice—decide that it just isn’t worth it to take our most important jobs. And this is why we can’t have nice things.

[1] Here are some of previous writings on John McCain:

24 September 2010

I constantly hear of “war hero John McCain” but almost never “war hero John Kerry.” But I had never heard anything about what made McCain a hero other than being a POW and passing up early release available to him because of his powerful father. Thus, I looked up his war record. There is a lot of George W. Bush in the young McCain, but he did receive a Bronze Star and the Navy Commendation Medal—an award considerable less prestigious than the Bronze Star. His Bronze Star was for dropping bombs on Viet Nam—not exactly what I think of as heroic, but okay: he got the award and I guess we can call him a hero.

John Kerry, on the other hand, won both the Bronze Star and the Silver Star—for acts of heroism that I could never see myself doing. By any definition, Kerry is as least as big a war hero as John McCain. And yet, during the 2004 election, Republicans were more than willing to shit all over Kerry’s heroism in the name of politics. And to this day, McCain is the “go to” man in the Senate when it comes to the military—not John Kerry. Could it be that we are not forever hearing about “war hero John Kerry” because he happens to be a member of the Democratic Party? That he is generally against war?

Is it any wonder that we are perpetually at war when the only people we look to are warmongers who mostly have never seen war. And I include people like McCain who only saw the war from a horrible POW camp and a mile above land.

1 December 2010

For years, I’ve been saying that John McCain is no maverick. He’s vengeful: after losing to George W. Bush, he did what he could to poke him in the eye, and that sometimes meant not holding extremist conservative views—which were and still are his stock and trade. But this made him look like a maverick when, in fact, he was just pissed off. Last night on Countdown, Dan Savage said something that McCain is, however. When Keith Olbermann asked Savage why the military leaders’ opinions and this huge military study are not enough for McCain on the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Savage responded bluntly, “Because, not to put too fine a point on it, McCain is a bigot.”

20 April 2011

Paul Krugman makes an excellent point on his blog today:

One thing I guarantee you: if John McCain were living in the White House, these same people would have lots of good things to say about the stimulative effects of deficits in a depressed economy.

I know it’s an excellent point, because I’ve been making the same point for some time—particularly about healthcare. Note that “Obamacare” is exactly what John McCain campaigned on. Had he become president, I’m sure that we would have got the same plan. The only difference would have been that conservatives would have embraced it. It would not have been a major battle to get it passed. And the reason is clear: authoritarians (thank you John Dean) don’t stand for anything but standing in line: “for us and against them”—regardless of what “they” stand for.

19 July 2012

I am so tired of McCain getting credit for this. He said this on 10 October 2008. By that time, he was 90% certain that he had lost the presidency. His countering this woman was his effort to save what little dignity he had left. Had the race been a dead heat, John McCain would have pandered as much as, say, Mitt Romney this last year.

Thiessen’s Last Stand

Marc ThiessenDavid Frum has written two articles in as many days about what he calls “doomsday conservatism.” Both relate to a column by conservative nutjob and Pillsbury Doughboy standin Marc Thiessen. He is the part of the Republican Party who think of themselves as The Little Party That Could. If they are just true and strong then that big meanie President Obama will wave the white flag.

Really, this guy is delusional. This is the opening of his Washington Post column, “When the 1st Marine Regiment was encircled by communist forces at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Marine Col. Lewis ‘Chesty’ Puller was said to have declared: ‘We’re surrounded. Good! Now we can fire in any direction.'” He should have quoted General Douglas MacArthur, “I shall return.” Because let’s face it, the best the Republicans can hope for is to survive to fight another day.

But no, Thiessen won’t have it! He claims that the Republicans have two options: stand and fight or surrender. As you can probably tell, this is not a guy who knows much about military tactics except for the anecdotes he learned during his trust fund education and well-paid lobbying jobs. But he wouldn’t even need to have served in the military to know better. Anyone with a little experience getting kicked in the teeth by life could have told him there are more than just two options. But this is the Republican Party all over. Remember John Boehner’s comment that he got 98% of what he wanted—and then turned it down? It seems that this is a world in which you can’t have it all and more and more it looks like that means Republicans are going to take nothing.

Thiessen has a three step plan:

  1. Don’t raises taxes! And when they are raised automatically in January… Forget step one, go on to step two!
  2. Come up with a new plan to—Wait for it!—lower taxes!
  3. Pass your plan and if Obama doesn’t like it, destroy the economy!

This really is his plan. And Frum takes him to task for it. Mostly, he notes that there are no existing plans so somehow the Republicans would have to work all of this legislative magic with their backs to the wall and with the threat of creating the worst economic crisis in the United States since 1861.

But more important, as I noted above, there are not only two options. Unfortunately, all the blood seems to have left Thiessen’s brain and pooled in his dick. Frum explains:

If Ryan-style Medicare reform can wait until 2023, why can’t Ryan-style Medicare reform wait until there’s a Republican president and Congress with a mandate to enact it, rather than use extreme and almost extra-constitutional measures to force such a reform on a president and Senate with a mandate to oppose it?

The short answer is: because there is no real plan, only a high-hormone demand to do something, anything, to defy and reject the results of the 2012 election. Once again: tactical radicalism, strategic nihilism.

In the end, I think that the Republicans will be more reasonable than this, because Thiessen is not proposing a plan to win these budget negotiations; he’s proposing a plan to destroy the Republican Party.

Pleaded Vs. Pled

Plead vs. PledRecently, there have been a lot of articles about people who pleaded guilty to this or that crime. This came as a bit of a shock to me, because I’m a careful reader, and I just assumed that they pled guilty. You know me: the practical pedant. And this issue is very clear. Either of these constructions are okay.

How do I know? Well, as always, I checked Fowler. He thinks “pled” is an American thing. He appears to be wrong, but the fact that he doesn’t make a big deal out of the issue should tell you something; Fowler had no problem making a fuss when he thought it was right. So I checked my favorite grammar sources, The Grammar Bible and Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences. They don’t even mention the issue. And the Merriam-Webster dictionary? They not only mention “pled,” they offer “plead” as well!

Let me go further: why are we still using “pleaded”? The only words that are much like it are “lead” and “read.” And both conjugate the same way. There is no reason to hang on to this archaic usage. So “pleaded” is on notice around here. You won’t be seeing it. Except, of course, here:

‘Yes, please do!’ pleaded Alice.

A Night at the Opera

A Night at the OperaLike all people who refuse to grow up, I love the Marx Brothers. But I fully admit that their movies are a mixed bag. There is total insanity followed by total boredom. I am not talking about Margaret Dumont here. She is brilliant and I don’t think Groucho is ever funnier than when he’s interacting with her. The problem is that the films are filled with standard stories with anemic characters who no one cares about.

Take Animal Crackers for example. I love this film. I often put it on to cheer myself up. But what is the plot? It is rather clever, to be honest, but I doubt that one out of a hundred viewers notice it. A painting is being unveiled at the party. The romatic couple decide to replace the painting with one that he did to illustrate what a great painter he is so that they can get married. The paintings switched, some social rivals of Margaret Dumont switch his excellent copy with a terrible copy. In the end, everything is righted, the young man is proclaimed a genius, and the couple can marry.

The problem is that almost nothing is done to make this main plot interesting. Add to this the extreme heights of brilliance whenever the Marx Brothers are on screen and you end up with a film that is half great and half boring. I think this is why most people hold Duck Soup in such high regard: it is pretty much all Marx Brothers all the time. And I agree. But I think it suffered at the time of its release because it was ahead of the times. It is just gag after gag without much in terms of a plot. Just to give it some cohesion, it brings back the Sylvanian ambassador multiple times to remind everyone that this is all about the country going to war.

I think the Marx Brothers really manage to bring it all together in their first MGM film, A Night at the Opera. I just watched this film again and I was very impressed with how it manages to integrate the brothers into the story. In a fundamental way, the story is no different than Animal Crackers: the romantic couple want to marry but they can’t until he gets a chance to show everyone what a great singer he is. But in this case, Chico is his manager who makes a contract with Groucho who kind of represents the opera. Actually, this is my favorite scene (unfortunately a very bad copy):

I think there is a reason that there hasn’t been a lot of just dumping Marx Brothers bits together. It can be kind of hard to take. They are at their best when they are integrated into a story. I also appreciate that they are a little more likable in A Night at the Opera. Even though Duck Soup is funnier, I think that A Night at the Opera works better as a film.

We Need More Than the Fed to Save Us

Robert ReichYesterday, I responded to the Fed’s decision to tie interest rates to unemployment. Although I think this is good, it is the least they could do, and they are doing it much too late. My biggest problem was that the Fed’s new unemployment target is 6.5%, which is nowhere near full employment. I noted that they were continuing to do the heavy lifting of the rich. And note: high unemployment (and 6.5% unemployment is very high) is great for business owners because it gives them the pick of the best employees for the lowest prices.

Robert Reich responded to the policy change this morning, Why the Fed’s Jobs Program Will Fail. His analysis is different than mine. In fact, it is even more depressing. He says that this is good policy, and I agree for the most part: it is at least better policy. But the real problem is that the low interest loans will not be used in a productive way for our economy:

But the sad fact is near-zero interest rates won’t do much for jobs because banks aren’t allowing many people to take advantage of them. If you’ve tried lately to refinance your home or get a home equity loan you know what I mean.

Banks don’t need to lend to homeowners. They can get a higher return on the almost-free money they borrow from the Fed by betting on derivatives in the vast casino called the global capital market.

What he’s getting at here—although he doesn’t say it—is that the American economy is not capital constrained. The truth is that companies are sitting on huge sums of cash. If they want to invest in infrastructure, they can. But they don’t, because there isn’t a demand for their products. This is kind of a game of anti-chicken with the economy. Everyone is waiting until someone else starts to spend.

It is interesting to look back at how Milton Hershey dealt with the Depression. Instead of sitting on his huge piles of money, he assumed that the depression would eventually be over. So he invested in his infrastructure and when things got better, he was in a great position to capitalize on it. Of course, there were other reasons why he did so well. For one thing, it is a hell of a lot easier to get people to splurge on a nickle candy bar than on a thousand dollar Buick. But still, Hershey was farsighted in a way that most businessmen can’t even imagine.

Reich says, rightly, that what we really need is to invest in the middle class. But instead, we are tearing down the middle class. The Michigan right-to-work fiasco is a good example. But it is bigger than that. We have Republicans who think that if only the rich get richer, all will be fine. Well, let’s look at how that’s going:

Corporate Profits and Worker Wages

This graph illustrates what Ed was saying over at Gin and Tacos yesterday. Basically, we are told that prosperity is just around the corner. All we have to do is take another pay cut or another benefit cut, and then all will be well. But as you can see in the graphs above, this isn’t the case.

Of course, I tend to think that the issue isn’t particularly the Republicans. We know that they are out to get us. But so is much of the Democratic Party. President Obama seems eager to “reform” Medicare. He, like many Democrats, seems more interested in seeming reasonable than in doing what’s right. Unfortunately, the Democrats are all we’ve got. And to their credit, they are at least trying to make the economy better for all of us. (But better still for the rich!)

And now we are in a situation where we cannot depend upon the Fed to save us. Instead, we must depend upon the crazy and evil Republicans and the morally uncertain Democrats. Reich sums up:

The failure is in the rest of the government—at both the federal and state levels—still dominated by deficit hawks, supply-siders, and witting and unwitting lackeys of big corporations and the wealthy.

But there is good news. If the government doesn’t do anything really bad, the economy will eventually heal itself. And I feel very confident that the Democrats will not do that much harm. This is why they are infinitely superior to the Republicans. This is why I voted for Obama.