Thursday Night Schadenfreude

John BoehnerJohn Boehner seems like a nice enough guy. The truth is, I feel kind of sorry for him. He doesn’t seem like a ideologue. It’s possible that over the years, he’s come to realize that his party has no ideas other than the commitment to stay in power. Every time I see him, he looks like he would much rather be in a bar somewhere drinking. (And I’m pretty sure he spends a large part of the time I don’t see him doing exactly that.) At this point, I suspect his beliefs have ossified and he doesn’t even think about it any more. Outside of the House, he’d probably be an all right guy.

Having said that, I’m really enjoying this whole thing. The Republicans (and to a lesser extent the whole conservative movement) is in a full tilt meltdown. I don’t usually allow myself to experience this much schadenfreude, but I think I deserve this. It isn’t just that the vote for “Plan B” had to be called off. It is that they went ahead with a really vile spending cut bill to woo recalcitrant Republicans. This bill was a great big “Fuck you!” to a large majority of America. And they voted for it, because—and I don’t say this lightly—Republicans hate America. They have a hard time passing up any opportunity to flip off the Home of the Brave.

Had Boehner’s little tactical move worked, it still probably wouldn’t have worked. If, through some miracle that almost certainly would have required putting some blood on a page for Mephistopheles, Boehner had managed to force an Obama veto, who would have cared? At best, there would have been enough coverage to note the repellent nature of the harsh spending cuts on the poor in order to save tax cuts for the rich. This all brings me back to my suggestion a couple weeks ago in, The Obama-Boehner Conspiracy: Boehner understood all along that there could be no deal this year.

In the end, I don’t think this is really about Boehner. What we are seeing is how a movement that believes in very little other than power deals with a situation in which they have no power. Although even when they have power, their thinking seems only to converge on doing more damage to the Democrats. These people really don’t have any idea what they want to do. If suddenly they had 538 Republican members in Congress as well as control of the White House, they would be very confused. Sure: they would lower taxes and cut spending for just about everything. But otherwise? What would be the point of running a government they think is by definition too large?

But for now, it is a hell of a lot of fun watching them implode.

Afterword

I understand that conservatives love some idea that they call “America.” It is usually the country as they perceive it must have been at some earlier time: in the 1950s or the 1780s. But the truth is, what we are is pretty much what we’ve always been: for good and for ill. So they love some myth while they hate the fact of their country.

If Wishes Were Changes There’d Be No Goodbyes*

10 Vaguely Comforting Things About Little American Children Dying

Had they lived, we all know the happy bits of life they would have enjoyed, but here are a few things they’ve been spared in this random, heartless existence:

Never learning that Santa is a lie.

Never having to experience the circle of Hell called High School.

Never knowing what unrequited love feels like.

Never knowing the pain of a broken heart.

Never feeling unwanted or misunderstood.

Never knowing guilt or regret.

Never living in a twisted society that glorifies the very violence it supposedly finds abhorrent.

Never knowing hopelessness or despair.

Never finding mental illness hiding behind the door of adulthood.

Never knowing loss.


*If Wishes Were Changes by Nanci Griffith

Fiscal Cliff Calculator

Dylan MatthewsDylan Matthews over at Wonk Blog has a remarkable little interactive budget calculator, Choose Your Own Fiscal Cliff Adventure! It is interesting to play around with. The main thing that you will notice is that liberal policies tend to improve the economy and help the budget deficit. Conservative policies tend to hurt the economy without doing much to help the budget picture. For example, extending Unemployment Insurance has a huge effect on the economy and almost no effect on the budget. Raising the retirement age, however, does almost nothing for the budget deficit while it causes great pain.

I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but Republicans really don’t care about results. They are so locked into their ideology (such as it is) that they can’t be bothered to think about good policy. For example, one great policy for our long term budget picture is to allow a public option in healthcare. But we can’t have this, even though it would cost the government less money. Why? Socialism! So a program that makes the government smaller is socialism, but being against that program is a sign that you are for small government. Fucking brilliant!

Ezra Klein posted his choices via twitter. It is very similar to mine. In fact, we agreed on everything in the “fiscal cliff” and “stimulus” parts of it. But we disagreed a lot in the “deficits” part. In particular, he is for eliminating the mortgage interest deduction. The truth is, I’m not too keen on that deduction myself. I don’t think that home ownership is something that the government should be encouraging. Just the same, cutting the deduction would be a huge blow to the building industry that is even now in bad shape. In the model, this has no effect on economic growth. It would have an effect.

Anyway, these kinds of tools are fun and educational. They are good at teaching how policies affect the economy. Of course, that’s one of the reasons that conservatives are so bad at this little game. If a Democrat is in the White House, nothing the government does can affect the economy. Why Boehner & Co are so worried about the Fiscal Cliff I can’t say. Unless they’ve been lying these last four years…

Death of Kingdom

KingdomSupposedly, ITV canceled Kingdom because it was too expensive to produce, not because it was unpopular. The show, which stars Stephen Fry, is beautiful to look at. It has too many helicopter shots for my taste, but I can’t say they don’t work. Nonetheless, the show would have been as successful on a smaller budget. It is, after all, a little show about human foibles.

Fry plays Peter Kingdom, the one reasonably together sibling of a family that seems too dysfunctional to have gotten as far as they have. And they are surrounded by a group of idiosyncratic locals like Sidney Snell, the brilliant but socially awkward eccentric who almost single handedly manages to stop the encroachment of modernity on Market Shipborough. The series has long story arcs that are probably the weakest part of it. Peter Kingdom has a very unlikable brother Simon who takes up much of the air in these stories. This is sad because other potential story arcs are destroyed by the shrapnel of Simon’s past.

There are generally two stories during each 45 minute episode. One is usually light and the other designed to provoke convulsions of tears. For example, in the first episode of the second season, the whole town is trying to save the local lighthouse. Two older sisters are secretly trying to get it demolished because (unbeknownst by anyone) it was run by their uncle who sexually abused them as children. Sounds horrible, right? It is actually handled reasonably well. But it brought me to gasping sobs. As do most episodes. Usually, however, it isn’t something terrible. Instead it is something wonderfully sweet.

Thus far, you probably think that I don’t much care for Kingdom. That’s not true at all. It has exactly the combination of wit and sentimentalism that I desire. I am sad that it was canceled, because it certainly had another couple of good seasons in it. So if you get a chance to see it, I recommend it.

21 December 2012

Mayan MaskeThis is a little early. NASA means to put out the video below on 22 December 2012. They want to be there to explain why the world did not end. Even though it has not yet not ended. If you know what I mean.

My friend Toni asked me what I was planning on doing for the end of the world. I told her I would stay in and watch some comedies. I would definitely want to to see a few films again: Animal Crackers, The In-Laws, His Girl Friday. But if I really thought the world was coming to an end: I’d be frantically looking for a painless way to kill myself. I’m assuming here that we would be killed by an asteroid and that it would result in being burned alive. I don’t want to be around for that.

Luckily, the odds are that I’m not going to burn to death. What’s more, it almost certainly won’t happen tomorrow. So part of how I am spending my day is watching this video. According to it, the Mayan calendar is supposed to be cyclical like a car’s odometer. After you get to 999, it goes back to 000. All of my cars have managed this transition without exploding or even being hit by an asteroid, much less being engulfed by a huge solar flare.

So tonight, feel free to party like it’s 1999. But remember: odds are that you will still be expected at work in the morning.

They say two thousand zero zero
Party over, oops out of time
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999

Or 20 December 2012. Whatever.

H/T Sarah Kliff

Their Children Die Too

Newtown vs. Al-MajalaThe single political issue that I care most about—the only one that really even exists—is out-group vilification. It is what allows us to have some people starve to death while others have dozens of servants waiting upon their every need. It is what allows us to deny healthcare for tens of millions in the name of theoretical concerns like liberty and choice. And most of all, it is what allows us to kill other people.

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks put together the video below that calls attention to the many children who have been killed in our drone strikes. I’ve been in horrible conversations even quite recently with people claiming that our drone strikes are right and proper. Normally, politicians will say that they are unfortunate and unavoidable casualties. But most regular people either don’t think of it at all, or think that the people in Afghanistan hate us and therefore deserve to be killed. They should have loved their kids more by loving America.

The contrast now with this killing and the children killed at Sandy Hook last week is stark. In the defense of some conservatives, I’ve heard the same arguments. I’ve heard people say that these mass shootings are the price we pay for the 2nd Amendment. But mostly, this is not what people say about mass murder in the United States. So there is a disconnect. It is unacceptable that our children are murdered. And that’s absolutely true. But somehow it is acceptable to kill their children because it could be maybe that—if the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars—those kids were near a terrorist.

This is hard to watch, but not because it is graphic. It is hard to watch because it is true.

I get a lot of grief from people when I talk this way. The idea is that I am anti-American just because I don’t think that an American life is worth more than than Afghani life. Somehow, nationalism is a good thing, despite all of the lessons we supposedly learned from the 20th century.

Afterword

Just to make myself feel better:

“Plan B” May Have Votes Thanks to Grover

Grover NorquistCBS News reports, House GOP: We have the votes for “Plan B”. This does not come as a surprise. All the Republican authoritarian followers got the word from Grand Poobah Grover Norquist that it is okay to vote for this bill, so they will. I hope you weren’t all thinking that previous Republican resistance to tax increases came out of some ideological commitment. They were resistant because they hadn’t been given permission.

The CBS News story tries to tell both sides of the conflict, but they completely miss the point that “Plan B” would be a tax increase for many middle income families. When discussing modern American politics the media can be either even-handed or objective. They always go with even-handed. Being objective would require making a judgement and that would lead to conservatives calling them liberal. Of course, the conservatives call them liberal anyway, so I don’t exactly know what they think they buy with this false equivalence.

There is still a fair chance that the House will not bring a vote on “Plan B” to the floor. It will not take that many defections from the Republican Caucus for it to fail. But the fact remains that if Uncle Norquist had not given his consent, Boehner wouldn’t even try; he wouldn’t have half the votes that he needs.

Update (20 December 2012 5:30 pm)

Well, I guess they didn’t have the votes after all. It doesn’t mean all that much. There were roughly 25 Republicans who were not going to vote for “Plan B” and almost no Democrats who were. So what I wrote above was exactly right. And in the end, they might have squeaked out a win. But that would have been even more embarrassing than canceling the vote. Good fun!

Senate Letter Condemning Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark ThirtyA remarkable thing happened yesterday. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain sent a letter to Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment. It was regarding the portrayal of torture in the new film, Zero Dark Thirty. Feinstein does it as the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

It is a most reasonable, if direct, letter. They point out that they understand that writers make things up to tell a more dramatic story. Their concern is with the opening of the film which displays on the screen, “Based on first-hand accounts of actual events.” They call for the producers to make clear that torture was not helpful in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

They spend more than a page discussing not only the ineffectiveness of torture in this particular case but in general. And they are very concerned about what the Bush (never mentioned by name) torture program has done to the soul of America. They end the letter:

The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner. Recent public opinion polls suggest that a narrow majority of Americans believe that torture can be justified as an effective form of intelligence gathering. This is false. We know that cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of prisoners is an unreliable and highly ineffective means of gathering intelligence.

The use of torture should be banished from serious public discourse for these reasons alone, but more importantly, because it is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, because it is an affront to America’s national honor, and because it is wrong. The use of torture in the fight against terrorism did severe damage to America’s values and standing that cannot be justified or expunged. It remains a stain on our national conscience. We cannot afford to go back to these dark times, and with the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. You have a social and moral obligation to get the facts right.

It is rare that I feel pride about an elected representative. This is a very good letter and it is nice to see some people in power stand up for at least a small part of what I always believed were this country’s values.

On Not Seeing Pitch Perfect

Pitch PerfectYesterday, I snuck out to see a movie. There is not much at the $3 theater. Actually, there is nothing at the $3 theater because they have raised their prices to $3.50. Over the weekend, Matt Yglesias tweeted something to the effect that Pitch Perfect was very good. I have my problems with Yglesias, but he is smart so I didn’t even think about it. Plus, I saw the poster for it and it looked kind of industrial to me so I thought it might be something like Rent—but good. I should have known better.

Matt Yglesias is a big Breaking Bad fan. He even blogs about it. I too am a fan of the show. But whereas I saw that the fifth season was a complete failure—something that fans should forget about and assume the series ended at the very natural fourth season—Yglesias was very happy with it. So I think despite his notable intelligence and erudition, he doesn’t have much insight into drama. Especially after Pitch Perfect.

I should be clear: I didn’t see Pitch Perfect. At least, not all of it. I got into the theater, found my traditional seat in the middle of the fourth row and waited. I sent a text to Andrea, “I am seeing Pitch Perfect.” She shot back, “Ah. I thought that went straight to DVD.” Bad sign. It turned out she was wrong. Pitch Perfect made a bundle. Worse sign.

The movie starts with an a capella group competition. It was the kind of music I hate, but okay. Whatever. Then the girl group gets up and one of them vomits on stage. And then we are at the first day of college. And the nerdy kid thinks he isn’t because he does close-up magic (actually, that had a certain charm). And the girl with her midi keyboard and people making music on laptops. And the guys in chairs giving ratings of all the girls who walk by…

I ran from the theater. It had been 15 minutes. It was all too much Glee without the salve of Jane Lynch. Too much useless music. Too much teenage angst. I didn’t even like this kind of thing when I was 17. I remember being bothered in the movie Fame that Bruno would would write a stupid pop song like Fame. So I was glad to be rid of this unfortunate experience, even if it continues to haunt me.

Having said all this, I suspect the film is very good for teens and others who haven’t yet developed must taste for art. Or entertainment.